Saturday, February 21, 2009

UNEP calls for actions as World Governments unveil a historic treaty to tackle toxic heavy metals.

By Charles Ogallo

World Governments have unveiled a historic treaty to tackle pollutant heavy metal Mercury that is threatening Marine Ecosystem.

The Global treaty on the poisonous pollutant mercury was agreed by environment ministers at the end of the UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) Governing Council held from 16th -20th in Nairobi ,Kenya.

The landmark decision, taken by over 140 countries, sets the stage for the lifting of a major health threat from the lives of hundreds of millions of people especially those living along the coastlines.

Governments unanimously decided to launch negotiations on an international mercury treaty to deal with world - wide emissions and discharges of a pollutant that threatens the health of millions, from fetuses and babies to small - scale gold miners and their families.

Achim Steiner, UN Under - Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "UNEP has, for some seven years, coordinated and contributed to an intense scientific and policy debate on how best to deal with the issue of mercury. Today the world's environment ministers, armed with the full facts and full choices, decided the time for talking was over - the time for action on this pollution is now".

They also agreed that the risk to human health and the environment was so significant that accelerated action under a voluntary Global Mercury Partnership is needed whilst the treaty is being finalized.

"I believe this will be a major, confidence - building boost for not only the chemicals and health agenda but right across the environmental challenges of our time from biodiversity loss to climate change," added Mr Steiner.

Of the around 6,000 tonnes of mercury entering the environment annually, some 2,000 tonnes comes from power stations and coal fires in homes.

According to Mr. Steiner, the toxin In the atmosphere or released down river systems, can travel hundreds and thousands of miles.

’As climate change melts the Arctic, mercury trapped in the ice and sediments is being re-released back into the oceans and into the food chain” UNEP boss said.

Meanwhile eating advisories relating to fish such as tuna operate in many countries targeted at those at risk including pregnant mothers according to UNEP.

Scientists and the NGO Sharkproject are now also flagging yet another cause for concern? the increased consumption of shark meat in some parts of the world.

By some estimates these foods contain up to 40 times more mercury than recommended food safety limits and perhaps a great deal more.

Negotiation for a new global treaty to control mercury pollution set to begin this year has also been endorsed by the new U.S government.

The Bush administration had opposed legally binding measures to control mercury, despite broad support among a majority of countries in the UNEP Governing Council.

The Obama administration has reversed the former U.S. position on limiting mercury pollution worldwide.

"The Obama administration has clearly shown a new day has dawned for U.S. leadership and engagement with the rest of the world," said Michael Bender, director of the U.S.-based Mercury Policy Project, and a coordinator of the international Zero Mercury Working Group.

Among the 120 other countries that have expressed support for a legally binding agreement on mercury are: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Switzerland and Uruguay.

Environmental groups from the United States and around the world applauded the U.S. policy change.

The Nairobi meeting also reached a eight - point partnership plan aimed at tackling the toxic heavy metal Mercury which includes:

- Boosting the world - wide capability for nations to safely store stockpiled mercury
- Reducing the supply of mercury from for example primary mining of the heavy metal
- Carrying out awareness rising of the risks alongside projects to cut the use of mercury in artisanal mining where an estimated 10 million miners and their families are exposed
- Reducing mercury in products such as thermometers and high - intensity discharge lamps to processes such as some kinds of paper - making and plastics production.

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