The solution? Shutting down coal-fired energy and banning the mercury trade.
(Geneva, Switzerland) As delegates to the second Conference of the Parties (COP2) of the Minamata Convention on Mercury negotiated for a week over wording for a range of non-binding guidance, the shocking news that global toxic mercury emissions had surged 20% in 5 years was announced by UNEP.
Dr. Tadesse Amera, Co-Chair for IPEN, said, “IPEN has long warned that we are in the midst of a global mercury crisis and has campaigned for a rapid international response. Now that the Convention is finally law, we are on the brink of a catastrophe. If mercury emissions continue to rise at this rate, we are facing massive intensification of ocean pollution and rapid contamination of global fish stocks. Many big fish species are already too toxic to safely eat, and more species will follow. Women in many small island states rely on fish for dietary protein, and our data shows that, for most of them, their mercury levels are above unsafe exposure levels. If we want to protect these island populations, we must take more action immediately. There is only one sure way to stop this runaway mercury pollution and that is to ban the global mercury trade that feeds small scale gold mining and shut down coal power plants polluting the atmosphere.”
For tens of thousands of people in Western Kenya, gold mining is a way of making a living.
On informal mines across the region, women use mercury to bring out the gold. But a recent study conducted by a network of international charities has found that the chemical could be slowly killing them - and affecting the wider community.
The tragedy of Minamata may be a thing of the past for many, but as the world unites to take action on mercury pollution the dangers remain all too real.
At first it was a mystery. Three young girls stricken with an unknown disease in April of 1956, slurring their words, struggling to walk and suffering unexplained convulsions. Soon there were eight patients. By October there were 40 – 14 of whom had died. And the numbers kept growing.