International Treaty to Cut Mercury

Tomoko Uemura in her bath, Minamata, Japan. W. Eugene Smith

Tomoko Uemura in her bath, Minamata, Japan. W. Eugene Smith

140 nations agreed to cut mercury emissions that threaten human health and world food stocks.

The signers agreed to set enforceable limits on mercury emissions and to use alternatives that avoid the use, release or emission of mercury. Limits will be placed on mercury pollution from mining, utility plants, products and industrial processes.

Mercury is natural element that cannot be created or destroyed. It is released into the air, water and land from small-scale artisanal gold mining, coal-powered plants, and from discarded electronic or consumer products such as electrical switches, thermostats and dental amalgam fillings. Mercury compound goes into batteries, paints and skin-lightening creams.

It has been a known poison for centuries, and many are familiar with the story of mercury poisoning and images from Minamata, Japan.

From the NPR coverage on the treaty:

Because it concentrates and accumulates in fish and goes up the food chain, mercury poses the greatest risk of nerve damage to pregnant women, women of child-bearing age and young children. The World Health Organization has said there are no safe limits for the consumption of mercury and its compounds, which can also cause brain and kidney damage, memory loss and language impairment.

There are no safe levels of human exposure. To reduce your exposure to mercury, see our tips at