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The Minamata Convention, a United Nations pact launched Thursday, is designed to limit mercury use and emissions internationally. Finalized after four years of negotiations and signed by delegates of about 140 nations, the treaty includes many exemptions. (See below for news about the U.S. delegation.)
Here is what the treaty does – and doesn’t do.
1. Coal-fired plants,
boilers and smelters Nations must require best available emission-control technologies on new power plants, boilers and smelters, but they do not have to require them on older plants. Instead, they can take other steps for existing plants, such as emissions targets.
2. Light bulbs
Compact fluorescent bulbs of 30 watts or less will be banned by 2020 if they exceed 5 milligrams of mercury. Certain other halophosphate and fluorescent lamps also will be banned by 2020.
3. Mercury mining
Primary mining for mercury will be banned. Mercury mines already in operation can continue for 15 years and then will be banned.
4. Gold mining
Mercury will be allowed in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, where it is used to separate gold from rocks and sediment. The treaty encourages nations to reduce or phase out its use, but no targets or dates are included. Recent studies have documented that people in communities near artisanal mining areas in Peru and Brazil are highly exposed to mercury.