Geneva, Switzerland, 24 January 2014 – Yesterday, NGOs including groundWork [1], member of Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) [2], welcomed the adoption of a new resolution by the World Health Organization’s executive board (EB), agreeing to both endorse and lend support for countries to address the health-related aspects of the new Minamata Convention on Mercury. They also applauded WHO for encouraging governments to “promptly sign, ratify and implement” the Convention.

The Convention’s objective is to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic mercury emissions through a range of provisions – including, for the first time in a global multilateral environment agreement – a dedicated health article.

The Convention’s provision on health encourages Parties to develop programmes to protect populations at risk from exposure to mercury through the development and implementation of health-based guidelines. These include specific provisions to control mercury emissions from coal fired power stations.

Currently in South Africa, Eskom is responsible for the majority of mercury emissions from its monopoly fleet of dirty coal-fired power stations emitting an estimated 40 tonnes of mercury into the atmosphere each year. Eskom is currently required by our air quality standards to meet minimum emission limits (MEL) to curb its air pollution problem, however Eskom is applying for postponements and effective exemptions from these MEL’s – which effectively could cut its mercury emissions by up to two-thirds as a co-benefit.

“This type of WHO endorsed resolution is a clear signal by the WHO to developing and developed countries to undertake mercury control activities as required by the treaty to protect the environment and ultimately human health in line with our priorities. Mercury emissions from Eskom’s coal-fired power must be controlled,” said Rico Euripidou, Environmental Health Campaigner at groundWork.

In addition, the Convention requires parties to phase out certain mercury-containing products, including thermometers, sphygmomanometers, cosmetics, and topical antiseptics; phase down dental amalgam, and develop public health strategies to reduce use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining.

“Prompt ratification will result in less pollution and human exposure to mercury, a poison that can affect the brain and the nervous system,” said Michael Bender, International Coordinator for ZMWG, “To protect people’s brains, we are urging more testing of commonly consumed fish, consumption advisories, biomonitoring, and public health campaigns.”

The Convention holds critical obligations that affect primary mining of mercury use, trade, emissions and disposal, among others, that taken together will eventually lead to global mercury reductions. 

“Governments and all stakeholders involved need to build upon this momentum by undertaking mercury reduction activities in parallel, and ratifying the treaty as fast as possible,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, ZMWG International Coordinator.  “We urge 50 countries to step up and ratify by 2015.

The WHO EB resolution must next be approved at the World Health Assembly at their annual meeting in May before it is finalized.



[1] The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) is an international coalition of 98 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from 54 countries from around the world formed in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project.  ZMWG strives for zero supply, demand, and emissions of mercury from all anthropogenic sources, with the goal of reducing mercury in the global environment to a minimum.
[2] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Air Quality, Climate Justice and Energy, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International.


Megan Lewis
Media and Communications Campaign Manager
(W): 033 342 5662
(M): 083 450 5541

Rico Euripidou
Environmental Health Campaign Manager
(W): 033 342 5662
(M): 083 519 3008

groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)
Zero Mercury Working Group