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Friday, 13 September, 2002, 20:03 GMT 21:03 UK
Scientists highlight mercury threat
Mercury-laced waste in Cambodia
75% of mercury emissions comes from human activities

Chemical experts from around the world have asked for international action to be taken against the dangers posed by mercury to the environment and human health.


Between 5,000 and 10,000 tonnes of mercury enter the atmosphere each year

After a five-day meeting at the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva 150 officials recommended a list of options for dealing with the risks.

One of the options was a full global treaty to restrict mercury use.

But with diplomats weary of chemical treaty negotiations and with poor countries unable to fund the necessary changes, it is unlikely that any global agreements on eliminating the toxin will be reached quickly.

Over-exposure

It is estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 tonnes of mercury enter the atmosphere each year.

Fish market in New York
Most people are exposed to mercury primarily through eating fish

About 75% of such emissions comes from human activities such as burning coal in factories, power stations and homes.

At the meeting in Geneva, scientists and chemical experts concluded that over-exposure to mercury caused permanent and serious damage to human health and wildlife.

They recommended that new guidelines be established to reduce or eliminate the use of the heavy metal in industrial processes.

They also said talks should begin on establishing a legally binding treaty on mercury use.

Mass poisoning

Most people are exposed to the metal primarily through eating fish.

There have been several cases of mass poisoning from over-consumption of mercury-contaminated fish in recent decades.

In one of the biggest such cases, several thousand people died in Japan in the 1970s.

The experts also suggested immediate measures should be taken to improve information to vulnerable groups.

See also:

26 Mar 02 | Media reports
27 Apr 01 | Europe
10 May 02 | Health
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