Mercury is a highly toxic element and is considered one of the top ten (10) chemicals of major public health concern according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Mercury is a naturally occurring element in the Earth’s crust, and although various natural processes contribute to the release of mercury, the anthropogenic causes are the source of utmost concern. Human activities such as mining, fuel combustion, production of metal from ores, the intentional use of mercury in products and processes and the re-mobilization of previous mercury releases have led to an increase in mercury in the environment. Once released, mercury cycles between air, land and water where it can have harmful effects on humans and the environment.
The largest known case of mercury poisoning (known as Minamata disease) occurred in Minamata Bay, Japan in the 1950s. Mercury was present in the industrial wastewater that was being discharged for many years into the bay by a nearby chemical plant. The toxic chemical bioaccumulated in the aquatic species which were continuously eaten by the local population over decades, resulting in severe cases of mercury poisoning.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury (Minamata Convention) is a global treaty that aims to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds to the environment. The Convention aims to regulate, inter alia, mercury supply, sources and trade; manufacture, import and export of mercury-added products; use of mercury in certain industrial and mining processes; interim storage and disposal of mercury, its compounds and mercury wastes; and emissions and releases of mercury from human activities.
As of May 2021, there are 131 Parties to the Convention, inclusive of 9 Caribbean countries.
Map of Caribbean Parties to the Minamata Convention
Parties are required to phase-out the manufacture, import and export of certain mercury-added products listed in Annex A Part I, including:
- Mercury thermometers
- Compact and linear fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs and LFLs)
- Some batteries
- Electrical switches and relays with mercury
- Mercury containing blood pressure gauges
- Mercury-added skin lightening creams
Parties are also required to phase-down the use of dental amalgam fillings which contain mercury as per Annex A Part II.
Text of the Minamata Convention
The text of the Minamata Convention was adopted on 10 October 2013 and entered into force on 16 August 2017.
Minamata Initial Assessment Reports
Countries have conducted Minamata Initial Assessments to determine national sources of mercury releases and emissions and to identify national priorities related to mercury in support of their ratification and implementation of the Convention.
Countries designate national focal points to oversee the national implementation of the Convention and information exchange as provided for in Article 17.