CHEMICAL PRODUCTS / CONTAMINATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Community Strategy Concerning Mercury
In the light of the mercury-related health risks for humans
and the environment, the European Union (EU) is developing a strategy
based on six objectives, accompanied by specific actions, aimed mainly at
reducing the quantity and the circulation of mercury within the EU and
throughout the world as well as human exposure to this substance.
Communication from the Commission
of 28 January 2005, "Community Strategy Concerning Mercury"
[COM(2005) 20 -
Official Journal C 52 of 2 March 2005].
Mercury and its compounds are highly toxic to humans, ecosystems and
wildlife. High doses can be fatal, but even relatively low doses can damage
the nervous system.
The purpose of this strategy is to reduce the impact of mercury and the
risks it presents for the environment and human health.
It is based on the following six objectives:
- reducing mercury emissions;
- cutting the supply and demand
- managing existing amounts of
mercury in products still in use or in storage;
- protecting against mercury
- improving understanding of
the mercury problem and its solutions;
- supporting and promoting international
action on mercury.
The strategy identifies a certain number of specific actions for each
The strategy aims mainly to evaluate the implementation of existing
legislation (particularly the IPPC
Directive ), study the cases of certain sources (small combustion plants,
dental amalgam) and encourage the exchange of information on mercury
discharges and the best available prevention and reduction techniques.
Structure of supply and demand
The EU is the world's
biggest exporter of mercury. The Commission intends to propose a ban (by
2011) on the export of mercury from the European Union (EU). This ban
would be accompanied by assistance to develop new employment opportunities in
the regions concerned. Moreover, the Commission wants to restrict the
marketing of non-electrical or electronic measuring and control equipment
containing mercury (for example thermometers) by amending Directive
76/769/EEC , and evaluate the impact of residual mercury use (in
particular dental amalgams).
Managing surpluses and reservoirs
Since the permanent disposal of mercury is too expensive and uncertain, the
strategy is to store mercury produced by the chlor-alkali
industry (the largest holder of mercury in the EU), and at the same time
carry out investigations into the future of mercury already circulating in
Protecting against exposure
The main source of
exposure in developed countries is through inhaling mercury vapour from dental amalgam (this will be studied
in more detail, see below); furthermore, methyl mercury (its most toxic form) collects and
concentrates especially in the aquatic food chain (fish, seafood, etc.). This
is why the European Food Safety Agency ( EFSA ) is
to carry out a study into dietary exposure in vulnerable population groups
(pregnant women, children, etc.), particularly people who eat a lot of fish
and seafood. The strategy also foresees regular communication of additional
information concerning mercury in food.
The Commission is seeking to fill the gaps in our knowledge of mercury
, the priorities of which are set out in the 7th Research and Technical
Development Framework Programme.
Supporting and promoting
The strategy provides for the contribution from the Community and the Member
States to international fora and activities as well as concluding bilateral
agreements with third countries to address the mercury problem world-wide.
The Commission has annexed a detailed impact study [ PDF
] to this strategy. It intends to review its strategy by the end of 2010.
Although mercury is released by natural sources such as volcanoes,
additional releases from human activity, such as coal burning and use in
various products, have led to significant increases in environmental exposure
The main uses internationally, namely gold mining (small-scale mining of
essentially alluvial and elluvial gold-bearing
deposits to extract the ore in powder, flake or pellet form), batteries and
accumulators used in the chlor-alkali industry,
together account for over 75% of mercury consumption. Of these, the only
significant user in the EU is the chlor-alkali
industry, but this type of emission will be progressively reduced under the IPPC Directive
. Mercury use in gold mining is known to be significant in French Guyana
(where the French authorities are considering a ban) but not in the European
region of the EU. Directive 91/157/EEC
limits the use of mercury in batteries and accumulators.
Report from the Commission to the
Council of 6 September 2002 concerning Mercury from the Chlor-alkali
Industry [COM(2002) 489 - not
published in the Official Journal].
For additional information on mercury, please see the internet site of the
European Commission's Directorate-General for the Environment