More than 140 nations agreed yesterday to a treaty to limit mercury emissions and releases. Delegates in Geneva concluded 4 years of negotiations with an all-night session, coming to final agreement at 7:00 a.m. Saturday. The Minamata Convention—named for a city in Japan where thousands of people were injured or killed by mercury poisoning—will require its signatory nations to phase out the use of mercury in certain types of batteries, fluorescent lamps, and soaps and cosmetics by 2020.
The agreement also requires countries to limit emissions of mercury from coal-fired power plants, waste incineration, and cement factories. Countries in which small-scale gold mining takes place must draw up strategies to reduce or eliminate mercury use in that sector. Coal power plants and unregulated gold mining are the world's two largest sources of mercury emissions and releases into the environment.
The delegates agreed to limit mercury amalgam use in dental fillings, and to phase out the use of the element in medical thermometers and blood pressure devices.