The US on Thursday became the first country to ratify [press release] the Minamata Convention [text, PDF], which seeks to bring down emissions and releases of mercury, prompting praise from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) [official website]. There are currently 93 signatories to the convention, but the US is the only country to have ratified the agreement, giving the agreement legal force in the US. Named after the place where thousands of people were poisoned by mercury [BU backgrounder] in the mid-20th century, the Minamata Convention aims to control and reduce mercury across a range of products and includes controls relating to the processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted. The treaty also includes provisions relating to the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal and safe storage of mercury waste. The treaty also calls for boosting medical care, aiming to improve identifying and treating mercury related illnesses.
The Minamata Convention was introduced in Geneva in January, when more than 140 nations agreed [JURIST report] to create the legally binding treaty. The adverse effects of mercury on health and the environment have been a growing concern in recent years. Earlier this year, UNEP released its annual Global Mercury Assessment [text, PDF], which gave the most recent information on global mercury emissions and its effects on health and the environment. The report showed an increase in emissions in the industrial sector since 2005. In 2008 two US federal courts ruled on issues involving mercury and its health effects on consumers and the environment. In one, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled that US Food and Drug Association [official website] regulations did not preempt a woman from suing a tuna company for injuries sustained from mercury that was in a can of tuna she ate. In the other case, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a "cap-and-trade" policy that would have allowed power plants to trade "credits" for mercury emission was invalid. In 2006 the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website] ordered the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] to release internal documents pertaining to the controversial Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) [text]. The goal of the CAMR was to permanently cap and reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.