Europe bans mercury exports

The European Union has banned the export of mercury in an effort to reduce the global supply of the highly toxic heavy metal.

The ban covers all mercury, finally closing the door to previous exemptions which allowed the export of the metal when used in certain industrial applications.

The legislation also requires mercury which remains in the hands of certain industrial facilities, such as the factories involved in chlorine and caustic soda production, must be put into safe storage once the export ban takes effect in March 2011.

The EU’s Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Mercury poses a threat to human health and the environment in the European Union and globally.

“This important piece of legislation will protect citizens by significantly reducing exposure to this highly toxic metal. Let us hope that other countries will follow our example and support our goal of cutting the global supply of this dangerous substance.”

Mercury and its compounds are highly toxic to humans, animals and ecosystems.

High doses can be fatal to humans, but even relatively low doses can seriously affect the nervous system and have been linked with possible harmful effects on the cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems.

Once released, mercury remains in the environment for long periods, where it can change into methylmercury, its most toxic form.

Methylmercury readily passes through both the placenta and the blood-brain barrier, so exposure of women of child-bearing age and of children is of greatest concern.

Use of mercury is declining at both global and EU levels, yet some significant uses remain.

Globally, the main uses of mercury are in small-scale gold mining, the chlor-alkali industry and production of the basis of PVC plastic.

In the EU only the chlor-alkali industry remains a significant user, and it is progressively phasing out the use of mercury-containing cells in its production of chlorine.

The next most significant use in the EU is in dental amalgam for fillings.

David Gibbs

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