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[greenyes] Bush Administration Defeats Binding International Mercury Treaty
BBC

Pact to curb mercury is rejected
By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent


A global treaty proposed this week to fight mercury pollution has been 
rejected at a meeting in Kenya.

The European Union said the pact was required to curb the use of the toxic 
heavy metal, known to cause nerve damage and harm children in the womb.
But the meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) Governing 
Council in Nairobi backed a system of "voluntary partnerships" instead.

This idea was proposed by the US, which said it would help tackle the 
problem.

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Binding regulations
For environmental groups, this is not the only reason why the US opposed a 
global treaty.
"The US government is due to finalise new regulations on its own power 
stations next month," Felice Stadler, a director of the US-based Mercury 
Policy Project told BBC News.
Coal-fired power stations are the biggest source of mercury within the 
United States, accounting for around 40% of US production.
"They are basically re-writing sections of the Clean Air Act," claimed Ms 
Stadler.

This interpretation was backed up by a source within the US government's 
Environmental Protection Agency.

This source told BBC News that the agency's leaders wanted to avoid a 
binding international set of regulations because it would restrict their 
room to regulate US mercury emissions.

The EPA published a draft set of regulations, the Clean Air Mercury Rule, in 
January 2004; a mandatory 60-day public consultation period followed, during 
which the agency received more than 680,000 responses - the most it has ever 
received on any issue.
Most criticised the draft regulations for being too lenient, according to 
the BBC's source.

Safe levels

Claudia McMurray, speaking to BBC News from the Nairobi meeting, dismissed 
the idea that US domestic issues were dictating its international stance.

"The US is making history; the US has never regulated mercury emissions from 
power plants before, and neither has any other developed nation," she said.
European support for a global treaty is an extension of the position it has 
recently adopted on its own mercury production.

At the end of January, the European Commission launched a "Mercury Strategy" 
aimed at reducing use and production of the metal.

Its components include:
elimination of mercury exports from the EU by 2011
banning the marketing of measuring devices containing mercury - such as 
thermometers - with certain exceptions
eliminating mercury use in the chlor-alkali industry (the plants that 
convert salt and water into chlorine and caustic soda, staple ingredients 
for the chemical industry).

Explaining the reasoning behind the strategy, the commission says that 
"mercury and its compounds are highly toxic to humans and the environment.

"Although most people in Europe appear to be within internationally accepted 
safe levels for exposure, there is evidence that some people are around or 
above these levels, especially in coastal areas of Mediterranean countries 
and the Arctic."

Stabilising production

Mercury bio-accumulates - that is, it builds up in the tissues of animals.

Predatory fish are exposed to mercury themselves, and they eat other marine 
creatures which may also contain the metal; high levels can accumulate in 
their bodies, which is why pregnant women are advised to regulate their 
consumption of such fish, protecting their unborn children from exposure.

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"The US just has an aversion to all international treaties," Linda Greer, 
director of the Environment and Health Programme at the US-based campaign 
group the Natural Resources Defence Council, told BBC News from the Kenyan 
capital.
"It really seems a shame that [the EU] came to the table with such a strong 
proposal - and in addition you had the developing countries, the G-77, 
feeling that all the mercury in the world is flowing towards them.
"So we had all the ingredients for a meaningful agreement; but the United 
States was very obstructive to every idea except their partnership 
proposal."




© BBC MMV

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