Toxic Trade News / 26 October 2006
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EU calls for ban on mercury exports from 2011
by Associated Press
26 October 2006 (Brussels, Belgium) – The European Commission on Thursday asked EU nations to back a ban on exports of mercury from 2011 as part of efforts to cut down the global supply of the highly toxic chemical.

The EU is the world's biggest exporter of mercury, which is gradually being phased out by industry ­ even by its main European user, the chlor-alkali sector which supplies chlorine to a wide range of manufacturers.

The ban will hit Spain's state-owned Minas de Almaden y Arrayanes SA ­ or Mayasa ­ which exports most of the 1,000 metric tons (1,100 U.S. tons) a year that it buys from European companies that are turning away from the chemical. Another 12,000 tons (more than 13,000 U.S. tons) of mercury will become available from that phase-out between now and 2020.

The EU executive said Mayasa and the main European chemical lobby CEFIC have agreed to the 2011 deadline.

The new rules would see mercury put into safe storage after use. EU spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich said mercury's density meant the entire region's waste could be stored in one warehouse.

The 25-member EU said it would also continue to push for a worldwide agreement to reduce human and environmental exposure to mercury at a U.N. Environment Program meeting in February 2007.

Mercury poisoning can be fatal and even small amounts can damage the nervous system. Elevated mercury levels have been linked to learning disabilities and developmental delays in children and to heart, nervous system and kidney damage in adults.

Traces of mercury are found in nearly all fish and shellfish. Released through industrial pollution, mercury falls and accumulates in streams and oceans as a more toxic form, methylmercury. This can pass through the blood barrier and into the placenta, posing a particular risk to pregnant women and children.

However, health experts stress that the benefit of regularly eating fish may outweigh these risks.

Global demand for mercury is around 3,400 metric tons (3,750 U.S. tons) a year. The 15 nations that have been part of the EU the longest accounted for 440 metric tons (485 U.S. tons) of that last year.

The chemical is also used in small-scale gold mining and to make one of the ingredients for PVC plastic. It also forms dental amalgam for tooth fillings.

EU governments and the European Parliament must back the commission draft rules for them to become law.
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