UN pledges to curb sale and use of mercury

Monday September 25 2017

mercury

Caroline Atieno sorts out gold tailings laden with mercury. More than 100 countries have agreed to combat mercury pollution. PHOTO | PAULINE KAIRU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By PAULINE KAIRU
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The international community has pledged to curb proliferation of mercury by banning new mining and closing existing mines.

This came even as Kenya was accused of being the main supply hub for mercury, secretly used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining or ASGM in east and central Africa.

In the first sitting of the conference of the parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which started on Sunday in Geneva, Switzerland, countries celebrated the entry into force of the convention.

POLLUTION

Under the accord, the countries will regulate and monitor trade in mercury and work to reduce its use in ASGM — the largest source of mercury pollution.

Representatives from more than 150 countries have gathered in Geneva to mark a milestone in efforts to fight mercury pollution.

The United Nations Environment Programme said countries committed to the phase-out of manufacturing, import and export of mercury-added products by 2020.

According to the Unep report title Global Mercury Supply, Trade and Demand, released on the eve of the conference, Kenya and South Africa were the main supply hubs for mercury used in ASGM, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa itself.

TRADE
The estimated annual mercury demand for ASGM in these countries is 55 to 160 tonnes.

“Trade between the countries mostly appears to be undocumented. For example, Kenya did not register any exports during 2010-15 period.

"Information from gold fields in Tanzania, Uganda and eastern DR Congo, however, confirmed that their mercury came mainly from Nairobi, likely after entering the country via the port of Mombasa,” the report said.

Kenya is a signatory to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and has been carrying out an inventory of the mineral’s use, release and emissions in the country.

GOLD
The Minamata Convention is an agreement to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.

Coal burning, medical devices like thermometers, thermostats and dental amalgam as well as cement production have also been cited as major emitters.

ASGM activities occur mostly near Lake Victoria, areas that have significant reserves of gold.

The counties mostly affected by these activities are Migori, Kisumu, Siaya, Vihiga, Kakamega, West Pokot and Turkana.