U.S. Stance Dilutes Mercury Agreement

U.S. delegates to the mercury pollution summit meeting in Nairobi, Kenya last week reported that their vision for a non-binding agreement based on voluntary cutbacks by industry prevailed over the position taken by the European Union and others calling for mandatory restrictions.

Mercury, shown here in elemental form, continues to reside at the center of international debate over toxic pollution.

“We were able to convince the EU, Norway and Switzerland that we need immediate action,” said Claudia McMurray, leader of the U.S. delegation. “We can get started on this quickly, whereas agreeing a treaty could take years; but we do have other language saying we will look at this again after a period of time.”

Not surprisingly, European delegates accuse the U.S. of railroading the proceedings, which were organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to hammer out a binding international agreement, and diluting the outcome accordingly.

One European delegate who spoke under the condition of anonymity told reporters that the U.S. “does not like binding treaties. It generally hates bureaucracy [and] it fears that such a move would weaken its industries.”

While mercury is a naturally occurring element in the environment, industrial activities—especially coal-fired power generation—can cause build-ups of the toxic pollutant to unsafe levels. The effects of mercury contamination can cause serious health problems for pregnant women and children, not to mention wildlife.

Sources: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4297401.stm and http://www.terradaily.com/2005/050225145544.5vt0twu9.html