Representatives from the countries that joined the Minamata Convention on Mercury are taking part in its First Conference of the Parties (COP1) in Geneva, Switzerland. The event is slated to end tomorrow (Sep. 29) and aims to discuss ways to provide funding for the implementation of devices developed in the convention, especially in the industrial sector.
The convention was brought into effect on August 16 and aims to reduce mercury emission and use in order to protect both human health and the environment from its harmful effects. Despite having participated in the drafting of the document, Brazil has not conducted a survey on the country's mercury sources and emissions.
Letícia Carvalho, Coordinator-General for Environmental Quality and Waste at Brazil's Environment Ministry, the Minamata Initial Assessment—or MIA Project—is expected to be concluded in June 2018, after a few delays. “After the official inventory is drawn, an official implementation plan will also be devised and agreed upon with the Brazilian government [and other production sectors],” she explained.
The goal is to create an accurate data base to help reduce and eliminate mercury from relevant sources, minimizing contamination risks.
Mercury is used in industrial sectors, in the production of chlorine and soda and artisanal gold mining, in addition to being found in thermometers and pressure gauges and being part of dental amalgams. It is also released into the atmosphere during industrial processes such as ironworks, cement production, and the burning of waste and plant with coal for energy generation.
According to Zuleica Zycz, spokeswoman for NGOs and social movements at the National Chemical Security Commission (CONASQ) at the Environment Ministry, mercury has been found in birds, fish, and mammals, and poses a risk chiefly for children and pregnant women. “Health problems mean costs with health care in the future, especially for developing countries, which have a harder time dealing with diagnoses,” he said.
Brazil is not a mercury producer. Everything used in the country is imported. According to data from the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), which regulates the trade, production, and import of metallic mercury, 8.1 tons of the products were imported.
To Nycz's judgment, Brazil biggest problem regarding mercury is gold mining, as most mercury imports for dental use ends up in reserves in the Amazon. Also an issue is the fact that the amount of mercury in this activity is unknown and ends up being lost in the environment.
The MIA Project, in progress since 2015, currently works on three fronts: the mercury inventory in artisanal gold mining and the inventory of all other sources listed in the Minamata Convention.
The Environment Ministry created the Mercury Work Group, linked to CONASQ, with those interested in the Minamata convention, to systematically organize the implementation of goals under the deal. “The inventory, however, is how we'll be able to ascertain what efforts each sector will have to make,” said Carvalho, who is also the coordinator of the work group.
The convention was named as a tribute to the victims poisoned with mercury—a disaster that took place in the Japanese city of Minamata, where a factory started discharging tons of mercury waste in 1930. Due to the accumulative effect in the food chain (especially in the fish), the first symptoms of the intoxication were only identified in the 50s. Hundreds of peopled died of poisoning. Thousands contracted diseases and developed permanent physical disabilities.
The international deal was signed by 128 countries in the city of Kumamoto, Japan, in October 2013. It was brought into effect on August 16 this year, 90 days after it was ratified by 50 countries.
Translated by Fabrício Ferreira