Speaking at a resort on the Dead Sea coast on Thursday, Jordanian Environment Minister Taher Shakhshir and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw Thursday called on governments to help bring the global pact into effect.
Adopted in 2013, the convention has been signed by 128 countries and ratified by 23 nations, but needs to be ratified by 50 countries this year in order to enter into force.
Thiaw said it took decades for the world to understand the science of mercury poisoning. “But whether the exposure is through lack of choice [or] lack of awareness, the damage is the same.”
The convention will ban new mercury mines, phase out existing ones, control measures on air emissions and put into force an international regulation of the informal sector for artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
It also seeks to control the use and trade of mercury and its components and ensure sound management and treatment of contaminated sites.
Activities as common as construction, cremation and coal burning release mercury into the environment.
Mercury is toxic to human health, posing a particular threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The president of the World Alliance for Mercury-free Dentistry, Charlie Brown, said: “The World Alliance urges continued focus on ratification so we can reach the magic number of 50 in 2016.
“We thank the thousands and thousands of mercury-free dentists all over the world.”
The WHO says mercury has toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.
Thiaw said the knowledge gap about mercury production is significant, saying that while estimates of man-made mercury emissions stand at around 2,000 tonnes, the margin of error is more than double that amount.