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A Toxics-Free Future


Signers of Minamata Convention hold first meeting

Parties to a global treaty designed to regulate mercury have attended an inaugural conference in Switzerland. More than 150 countries and territories took part in the meeting in Geneva on Sunday.

The Minamata Convention aims to prevent mercury-induced health problems and environmental pollution. It was adopted at a UN conference in Kumamoto Prefecture, western Japan, in 2013.

It took effect last month after being ratified by more than 50 countries. Japan played a key role in the adoption of the Convention.

The treaty was named after the southwestern Japanese city of Minamata, where tainted industrial wastewater caused mercury poisoning among residents in the mid-1950s.
Marc Chardonnens is the Director of Switzerland's Federal Office for the Environment. As conference chair, he stressed the significance of the Convention.

He hailed the Minamata Convention's commitment to reducing the use of mercury worldwide to protect people's health and the environment. He said this is a historic moment.

61-year-old Japanese Minamata disease patient Shinobu Sakamoto told the conference that she contracted the disease from her mother while in-utero.

Sakamoto called on society to address the problem in good faith as many people are still suffering the effects of mercury poisoning.

The Convention regulates the output of mercury at new mines, and stipulates a ban by 2020 on the production and exports of cell batteries and thermometers using mercury.

Environmental pollution by mercury continues in developing countries.

Attention is focused on whether signers of the Convention can work out effective and feasible measures toward a full implementation of the treaty by safely managing and disposing of mercury.