Obama administration proposes binding international mercury treaty

[JURIST] The administration of US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Monday proposed the development of a binding international treaty to regulate global mercury [DOS backgrounder] levels. The announcement by US State Department [official website] Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment and Sustainable Development Daniel Reifsnyder came at the 25th Session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environmental Forum [official website], a meeting of global environment ministers held by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) [official website] in Nairobi, Kenya. In his statement [text], Reifsnyder said:

We have now arrived at a point where there is a call to come together to launch an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international agreement on mercury; ... The United States now joins that call. We are prepared, Mr. Co-Chair to help lead in developing a global legally binding instrument for mercury. ...

It is clear that mercury is the most important global chemical issue facing us today that calls for immediate action. Mercury is a chemical of global concern specifically due to its long range environmental transport, its persistence in the environment once introduced, its ability to bio-accumulate in ecosystems, and its significant negative effects or human health and the environment. The United States does not support adding additional substances to an agreement on mercury, or diverting valuable time and attention to other issues by debating criteria and parameters for an adding mechanism.
The Zero Mercury Working Group [advocacy website] commented on the development, noting the rapid change [AP report] in approaches from the anti-agreement policies of former president George W. Bush to the approach taken by the Obama administration.

Mercury pollution and contamination has been seen as an increasingly important issue in the debates over food and drug safety and environmental protection. Last week, a US federal court rejected arguments [JURIST report] in three test cases against the US Department of Health and Human Services by families alleging that their children's autism was caused by vaccines that contained a mercury-based preservative. In August 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that existing US Food and Drug administration regulations did not preempt a New Jersey woman's state claim that she was poisoned by mercury in canned tuna. Last February, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit effectively invalidated [JURIST report] a policy promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate electrical power plant mercury emissions. The regulatory scheme would have been implemented in 2010, and would have cut mercury emissions by 70 percent of 1999 levels [JURIST report].

 

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