The entry into force of the Minamata Convention on Mercury Aug. 16 will spur companies worldwide to restrict their use of mercury and pursue alternatives to mercury added products.
The convention seeks to protect human health and curb environmental contamination by obligating its parties to broadly limit the use and export of mercury and restrict mercury emissions into the air, soil, and water.
The legally binding treaty—named after Japan’s Minamata Bay where industrial pollution led to widespread mercury poisoning in the 1950s—requires its signatories to phase out many common mercury-added products by 2020 and mercury-bearing processes by 2025. The U.S. and the European Union are among the 74 participants of the Minamata Convention, which also includes China, the world’s largest producer of mercury.
“The treaty is designed to foster a simultaneous reduction in global mercury demand and supply,” said Michael Bender, director of the Vermont-based Mercury Policy Project.
Inorganic mercury can become the more toxic methylmercury when discharged to lakes and other water bodies. Methylmercury is a neurotoxin that can affect IQ and cardiovascular health at sufficient concentrations.
Mercury Phase Out
Some companies have already begun the process of phasing out mercury products. Furniture retailer Ikea announced in 2015 that it would sell only LED lightbulbs that do not contain mercury, unlike traditional fluorescent light bulbs.
“Mercury-added products represent one-third of total mercury demand and consumption,” Bender told Bloomberg BNA. “So, by phasing out mercury-added products by 2020, this rather rapidly reduces global mercury demand.”
Mercury is added to a variety of products, including batteries, watches, cameras, clocks, dental amalgam, automobile headlights, neon signs, laboratory chemicals, preservatives, fixatives, buffers, dyes, barometers, and thermostats.
Abbott Laboratories, Dell Inc., Energizer Battery Manufacturing Inc., and Ford Motor Co. are among the manufacturers with products that can contain mercury, according to the Interstate Mercury Education & Reduction Clearinghouse.