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Minamata Convention Agreed by Nations

Artisanal Gold MiningArtisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining

The booming price of gold in recent years has triggered a significant growth in small-scale mining where mercury is used to separate gold from the ore-bearing rock. Emissions and releases from such operations and from coal-fired power stations represent the biggest source of mercury pollution world-wide.

Workers and their families involved in small-scale gold mining are exposed to mercury pollution in several ways including through inhalation during the smelting.

Mercury is also being released into river systems from these small-scale operations where it can contaminate fish, the food chain and people downstream.

  • Governments agreed that the treaty will require countries to draw up strategies to reduce the amount of mercury used by small-scale miners.
  • Nations with artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations will draw up national plans within three years of the treaty entering into force to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the use of mercury in such operations.
  • Public awareness campaigns and support for mercury-free alternatives will also be part of the plans.

From Power Stations to Cement Factories

The new treaty will control mercury emissions and releases from various large industrial facilities ranging from coal-fired power stations and industrial boilers to certain kinds of smelters handling, for example, zinc and gold. Waste incineration and cement clinker facilities are also on the list.

Nations agreed to install the Best Available Technologies on new power plants and facilities with plans to be drawn up to bring emissions down from existing ones.

The negotiations were initially looking to set thresholds on the size of plants or level of emissions to be controlled. But it was decided this week to defer this until the first meeting of the treaty after it comes into force.

Source: UNEP.

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