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 Sixth Anniversary of the Minamata Convention

Context:

The sixth anniversary of the Minamata Convention on Mercury is a reminder of global efforts to combat the toxic effects of mercury. On this occasion, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reflects on the ongoing campaign to eradicate the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Minamata Convention
  2. Mercury Pollution: Sources, Impact, and Applications
  3. Path Forward to Address Mercury Pollution

About the Minamata Convention:

The Minamata Convention stands as a worldwide accord designed to safeguard human well-being and the environment against the detrimental impacts of mercury and its derivatives.

Origins and Agreement:

  • The Convention’s formulation was finalized during the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, held in Geneva, Switzerland in 2013.

Mitigating Anthropogenic Impact:

  • A pivotal obligation under the Convention involves the regulation of human-induced discharges of mercury across its complete life cycle.

Mercury Pollution: Sources, Impact, and Applications

About Mercury:

  • Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in the Earth’s crust and considered a significant public health concern by WHO.

Major Applications:

  • Mercury is used in thermometers, barometers, and mercury-wetted switches due to its thermal expansion and electrical conductivity.
  • It’s employed in chemical processes, gold mining, and electronics manufacturing.
Sources of Mercury Pollution:
  • Natural Sources: Volcanic eruptions and erosion release mercury into the environment.
  • Anthropogenic Sources: Activities like Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM), industrial processes, and improper e-waste disposal contribute to mercury pollution.

ASGM and Mercury Emissions:

  • ASGM employs mercury to extract gold from ores, leading to mercury emissions during gold extraction.
  • Artisanal gold mining contributes significantly to global mercury pollution, accounting for 37% of emissions.

Industrial Processes and Waste Disposal:

  • Industries such as chlorine production, cement manufacturing, and waste incineration release mercury.
  • E-waste containing mercury, like fluorescent bulbs and batteries, contributes to environmental pollution.
Impact on Health and Environment:
  • Methylmercury, accumulated in aquatic organisms like fish, poses health risks to humans who consume contaminated fish.
  • Exposure to methylmercury can lead to Minamata disease, characterized by sensory impairment, tremors, and sensory deficits.
  • Mercury pollution arises from both natural sources and human activities, affecting ecosystems and human health alike.

Path Forward to Address Mercury Pollution

Innovative Mercury Removal:

  • Develop and implement mercury-removal filters in industrial emissions, wastewater treatment, and consumer products.
  • These filters can selectively capture mercury particles from air and water streams, reducing emissions.

Phytoremediation:

  • Utilize phytoremediation, where plants absorb and accumulate mercury from soil, water, or sediments.
  • Harvest and dispose of these plants to effectively remove mercury from the environment.

Global Implementation of planetGOLD:

  • Collaborate with the UNEP-led planetGOLD program to eliminate mercury from artisanal gold mining and enhance worker safety.
  • This initiative aligns with the Minamata Convention’s goals and offers financial and technical support to transition miners away from mercury use.

Mercury-Free Processing Plants:

  • Establish mercury-free processing plants as exemplified by Burkina Faso’s model under planetGOLD.
  • Demonstrate successful transitions away from mercury use in gold mining operations.

-Source: The Hindu


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