After five days of talks and a marathon negotiating session that stretched well into the night, delegates from 140 countries agreed Saturday on the first legally binding treaty to reduce mercury emissions, which will rewrite rules on how the silvery-white metal can be used around the world.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury, named in honor of the Japanese town where thousands were poisoned from industrial mercury discharges in the 1950s, will go into effect once 50 countries have ratified the treaty.
“It’s a mixed bag,” says ACSH’s Dr. Ruth Kava. “Some of the suggested regulations are good, others are not.”
The delegates did agree to exempt vaccines contained thimerosal, an ethylmercury preservative. This decision disappointed activists who believe, in the face of 15 years of research to the contrary, that thimerosal is somehow linked to disorders such as autism. Thimerosal vaccines are particularly important in the developing world, where refrigeration is scarce and thimerosal stops pathogens from growing in vaccine vials.
But the convention also agreed to phase out mercury thermometers and blood pressure monitors by 2020. Delegates also agreed to “phase down” mercury amalgam dental fillings, despite overwhelming evidence such fillings are safe.