MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Over the past few decades, mercury used in gold mining has disabled and killed hundreds of thousand

Published by MAC on 2005-02-01

Over the past few decades, mercury used in gold mining has disabled and killed hundreds of thousands of miners and their dependents, in Latin America, Africa and Asia. It has toxified innumerable waterways and surrounding biospheres. Many (including some mining companies) blame small scale miners for these consequences; others blame "poverty". But a major part of the responsibility lies elsewhere - among European states. For the biggest single exporter of mercury is Germany and, until recently, the largest mercury miner was Spain. Now the European Union has decided to outlaw its export, though it may take another six years before a total ban is in place.

EU Commission Proposes Ban on Mercury Exports

Planet Ark

February 1, 2005

Brussels - The European Union, the world's largest supplier of mercury, is set to ban exports of the metal by 2011 under new rules proposed by the EU executive Commission on Monday, continuing the fight to curtail its use worldwide.

The rules, which also seek to limit emissions, curb marketing of mercury thermometers and ensure safe storage of mercury from industrial plants, aim to reduce global supply and protect EU citizens from mercury's effects.

Exposure to mercury is particularly harmful to young children. High levels can harm the nervous system, brain and kidneys and even cause death. Stavros Dimas, EU commissioner in charge of the environment, told a news conference the bloc had a responsibility to phase out trade in mercury and reduce its presence around the world.

Mercury is used to make caustic soda, batteries, thermometers and other products.

Existing EU legislation on mercury already covers emissions and limits its use in such products as batteries, cosmetics and pesticides.

The export ban will have the greatest effect on Spain, the only country in the EU where mercury is mined, but Dimas said the economic effects would be minimal. Spain's Minas de Almaden said this month it did not plan to restart its closed mine.

The EU supplies about one-third of global demand for mercury. The Commission hopes that cutting that amount -- about 1,000 tonnes a year -- out of the world market will spur development of alternatives.

Most of the EU's exported mercury comes from the chlor- alkali industry, which produces chlorine. The sector is converting its plants away from mercury to abide by EU laws.

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