In 2009, following extensive consultations, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council convened an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to prepare a legally binding instrument on mercury. Five INC meetings took place and the treaty text was finally agreed to on 19th January 2013, in Geneva, Switzerland. In October 2013 in Kumamoto, Japan, the Minamata Convention on Mercury (“the Convention”) was adopted and opened for signature. The convention has since been signed by 128 countries; 28 of which have since ratified it and will only enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 nations.
Mercury is a chemical of global concern due to its long-range transport in the atmosphere, its persistence in the environment, its ability to bio accumulate in ecosystems and its significant negative effect on human health and the environment. Toxicological and epidemiological studies have shown the causal link between mercury and neurological disorders in children and adults. Through maternal-fetal transmission mercury adversely affects the development of the fetus in pregnant women and impairs neurological and metabolic processes in adults. Once released into the environment, it pollutes both the local and global environments. Formed as a product of bacterial action on mercury in water bodies, Methylmercury is the most toxic form of mercury and the most wide spread form of mercury contaminant in fish and aquatic systems. It works its way up the food chain and subsequently ends up in humans through the consumption of fish.
Sources of exposure for humans and the environment are widespread. These include mercury vapors in ambient air, fish, vaccines, and occupational exposures including artisanal and small scale gold mining. Home exposures can include breakage and leakage of mercury from products such as fluorescent light bulbs, thermostats, red tattoo dye, and skin lightening creams, dental amalgams. Mercury exposure from dental amalgam alone is estimated to range from 3 to 17 micrograms per day from slow corrosion, chewing, brushing and grinding. This release of mercury from products and devices into humans and the environment occurs throughout the entire product lifecycle; throughout production, transportation, manufacturing, use, storage and disposal