Spain must stop global contamination through mercury trade

Environmental, health and consumer groups have urged the Spanish government to stop the Almaden mercury operation from polluting the planet and poisoning millions of people worldwide.

This mercury is often used in leaking chlor-alkali plants in India, battery production in Asia and artisanal gold mining in Africa, South America and Asia, where over 13 million people are unknowingly poisoned with mercury each year.

“People from around the world have a right to ask how many more will be needlessly poisoned by mercury before nations like Spain stop the toxic trade in mercury forever,” said Michael Bender of the Ban Mercury Working Group. “It’s time for the EU and the Spanish government to assist the Almaden community to move towards more sustainable activities.”

Although the mining effort at Almaden has now finished, the facility is still exporting this deadly toxin around the globe from its stockpiles.

According to recent reports, the Almaden mine “has plenty of stocks left it can convert” into mercury while serving as the main trader for the EU chlor-alkali industry, typically selling off around 500 tonnes of excess mercury per year, primarily to developing countries, resulting in widespread human exposure and pollution.

To avert this global mercury crisis, immediate action must be taken to tighten and harmonise efforts to phase out mercury use, trade and release around the world (see related story), according to Elena Lymberidi of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

“The Spanish government should start talks to close the mine and ban mercury trade now, rather than waiting until 2011, as the recent EC Mercury Strategy proposes (see related story),” she urged. “Failure to do so will result in continued contamination of the world’s fish, a vital protein source, as well as poisoning of people around the globe – including in Spain.”

Research over recent years has clarified that human health can be compromised even by extremely small concentrations of mercury, with estimates for “safe” exposure having dropped many times.

Spokesperson from Ecologistas en Accion, Leticia Baselga, said that it was time both the government and the public understood just how dangerous exposure to mercury could be, even at low levels, especially for pregnant women and unborn or very young babies.

“Clearly, it’s time for the Spanish government to commit to ending all activities at the Almaden mercury operation,” she concluded.

By Jane Kettle

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