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January 16, 2013

The UN goes for an international mercury convention

© OCEANA / María José Cornax


This week, diplomats are in Geneva negotiating a treaty on global mercury emissions.

Mercury poisoning is no joke – as this Guardian article states, mercury is “a lethal neurotoxin that includes, among an inventory of grim effects, brain damage and the loss of IQ points in unborn children, injuries to kidneys and heart, and results in tens of billions of dollars in healthcare costs every year in the US alone.”

We’ve been working on this issue, which affects the health of both the population and our oceans, for years. You may remember a blog we wrote in 2011, “Mercury Rising: Seafood contamination and a consumer’s right to know” where we discussed the need for chlor-alkali plants to phase out the use of mercury in favor of Better Available Technologies, and called out Spain for having hidden crucial public health information on levels of arsenic and metals in fish and shellfish of commercial interest. Tests have shown that Spanish citizens have high levels of mercury in their blood – and we are steadfast in our efforts to curb contamination from dangerous toxin across Europe.

In addition to initiating litigation against plants that continue to use polluting technology, we are also working to convince grocery stores and other retail outlets to offer consumption recommendations particularly to the most vulnerable consumers, such as pregnant women and children under the age of three, making note of those species which the highest mercury levels.

It’s not over, not by a long shot, and that’s why this meeting in Geneva is so important. Unfortunately, the article offers little hope that the treaty will be strong enough to tackle this dangerous problem, but let’s hope for the best.

Until then, know this: individual citizens are not powerless, contact your local grocery store and ask them to make sure they display health risks associated with fish consumption in appropriate areas. Urge your politicians not to turn a blind eye to this important health risk and above all, inform yourself, and share your knowledge with your friends and families.