• Various kinds of mercury
  • Merit/Demerit of mercury
  • Minamata convention
  • Laws and regulations  about mercury

Minamata convention

Although discussed in detail later, the “Minamata Convention” can be summarized as follows:

“The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a treaty pertaining to an initiative to eliminate any mercury contamination on a global basis and as promoted by the UN. The convention was unanimously adopted in Minamata City, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan in October 2013, and signed by 92 nations including Japan. The scheduling includes the Convention coming into force 90 days after being ratified by 50 nations.

Japan has assumed leadership for the adoption of the convention since its initial stage. In anticipation of the convention coming into force, both the public and private sectors are being required to commit to initiatives to eliminate any mercury contamination in accordance with it.

Minamata Convention on Mercury

Background to Adoption of Convention

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) commenced activities related to mercury contamination on a global basis in 2001 and released a report summarizing the impact on human beings and state of contamination (Global Mercury Assessment) in the following year, or 2002.

At the 25th Session of the UNEP Governing Council that was held in February 2009, the participant countries agreed that they would establish a legally-binding document (convention) for use in reducing the risk posed by mercury, for which the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) would be set up, that the negotiations involved in the convention would commence in 2010 and that they would make the efforts to finalize them by 2013.

The 1st Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC1) was held in 2010. At the 5th Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC5), which took place in Geneva (Switzerland) in January 2013. The general wording of the global mercury convention was agreed upon and the name “Minamata Convention on Mercury” was decided.

The Conference of Plenipotentiaries Diplomatic Conference for the Minamata Convention on Mercury and its preparatory meetings were then held in the cities of Kumamoto and Minamata on October 7 through 11, 2013. More than 1,000 people attended the conference, including government officials from about 140 countries and regions, administers from more than 60 countries, as well as representatives from international organizations and NGOs. The Minamata Convention on Mercury then was unanimously adopted and signed by 92 countries (incl. EU)

The Minamata Convention on Mercury will come into effect 90 days later once 50 countries have ratified the convention.

Signed by: 128 countries; Ratified by 101 countries (as of Jan 25, 2019)

Objective and Characteristics of the Convention

The objective of the Minamata Convention is to protect both human health and the environment from any emissions of mercury and mercury compounds being released because of human activities.

The Minamata Convention is distinct from any other former international convention concerning the control of mercury (Rotterdam Convention, Basel Convention, etc.) as the former, for the first time, covers control over the entire life cycle of mercury, from “production,” “trade,” “use,” and “emissions and releases” through to “control and storage.”

  1. Discontinuation of 16 mercury-containing products
  2. Stricter control over exports and imports
  3. Reduction of atmospheric emissions
  4. Control of mercury-containing waste
  5. Guidance about and abolishment of small-scale gold mining
  6. Prohibition of the development and disuse of mercury mines

Prohibition on the manufacture, and the export and import of mercury-containing products

The manufacture, and the export and import of mercury-containing products contained in the list of banned products, which includes batteries, lamps, and cosmetics with a specific level of mercury content, will be prohibited by 2020.

Product item Exception State in Japan
Batteries Button zinc silver oxide batteries and button zinc air batteries with a mercury content less than 2% Use of mercury for dry batteries was discontinued in 1992. Production of mercury batteries was terminated in 1995. Button batteries are collected and recycled.
Switches and relays Very high accuracy capacitance, loss measurement bridges, and high frequency RF switches and relays in monitoring and control instruments with a mercury content of 20 mg or less Although mercury-containing switches and relays are used for special purposes, they are not used in any vehicles manufactured in Japan.
Fluorescent and high pressure mercury lamps for general lighting purposes, cold cathode fluorescent lamps for electronic displays and external electrode fluorescent lamps Compact and linear fluorescent lamps for general lighting purposes that contain mercury up to a certain level, cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) for electronic displays and external electrode fluorescent lamps (EEFLs) that contain mercury up to a certain level Mercury content of fluorescent lamps was reduced from about 50 mg in 1975 to about 8mg (40w lamp) in 2005.
Cosmetics including skin whitening soap and cream (with mercury content of 1 ppm or more) Eye cosmetics that contain mercury as a preservative when no other effective and safe alternative preservatives are available. Addition of mercury to cosmetics was prohibited in 1974.
Agricultural chemicals and biocides not for agricultural use and topical antiseptics N/A Addition of mercury to antiseptics and agricultural chemicals was prohibited in 1973 and 1974, respectively.
Non-electronic measuring devices (barometers, hygrometers, manometers, thermometers and sphygmomanometers Devices installed in large-scale equipment or used to make high precision measurements, where no other suitable mercury-free alternative is available. Electronic clinical thermometers and sphygmomanometers are currently in common use.

The convention imposes “implementation of measures to reduce atmospheric emissions according to BAT/BET, etc.” at the sites described in Annex D, and thus research on the behavior of mercury concentrations during the disposal process and continuous monitoring of final exhaust emissions can be expected to become increasingly necessary. In addition to regulation of atmospheric emissions, reducing the amount of mercury released into water systems and the earth is likely to be enforced more strictly in broader areas.

<Annex D> List of specific sources of emissions of mercury and mercury compounds into the atmosphere

  1. Coal-fired power plants
  2. Coal-fired boilers for industrial use
  3. Smelting and heating processes used in the production of non-ferrous metals (*note)
  4. Waste incineration facilities
  5. Cement clinker production facilities


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