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Kennedy and Yaggi write: "Next week, diplomats from around the world will gather in Geneva to negotiate a treaty on global emissions of mercury."

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (photo: unknown)
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (photo: unknown)

Mercury Poisoning Is a Growing Menace

By Robert F Kennedy Jr., Marc A Yaggi, Guardian UK

11 January 13


As the US knows to its cost, coal-fired power is a major cause of mercury pollution. The world needs a treaty tough on emissions

ext week, diplomats from around the world will gather in Geneva to negotiate a treaty on global emissions of mercury – a lethal neurotoxin that includes, among an inventory of grim effects, brain damage and the loss of IQ points in unborn children, injuries to kidneys and heart, and results in tens of billions of dollars in healthcare costs every year in the US alone. The Geneva conference is the final of five meetings, with a treaty expected soon thereafter.

While global mercury emissions are on the rise, negotiators, unfortunately, appear to be leaning towards a treaty with soft measures unlikely to prevent continued catastrophic impacts from this deadly and debilitating poison. Ironically, signatories propose to ink their treaty in Minamata, Japan, a town that famously suffered widespread mercury poisoning.

Health experts first described mercury poisoning, then called "Minamata disease", in Minamata city, in Japan, in 1956. Mercury discharges from the Chisso chemical plant contaminated finfish and shellfish, devastating the community's human and animal population for decades. Many of the region's citizens died and tens of thousands of people suffered mercury-related illnesses.

A former Japanese prime minister proposed naming the treaty the "Minamata Convention" to inspire delegates to reach an agreement that would prevent future mercury poisoning. Sadly, the treaty does not require identification or remediation of contaminated sites, does not require polluters to pay for health damages or environmental clean-up, or provide for protection from similar disasters occurring anywhere in the world. In fact, the treaty is not expected to reduce global levels of mercury in fish and seafood at all.

Poisonous mercury raining down from coal-fired power plants has contaminated fish in every US state. Now, a new report from the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) in Maine and IPEN, a network of 700 public interest organizations in 116 countries, shows the devastating global impacts of mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants and other mercury sources. The IPEN-BRI Global Hotspots report finds that coal-fired power plants, artisanal small-scale gold mining, chlor-alkali plants, and other industrial sources contaminate humans and fish around the world with mercury levels that exceed health advisory levels.

Mercury levels in fish from sites in Japan and Uruguay were so high that no consumption is recommended, according to US EPA guidelines, and 95% of the human hair samples taken from individuals tested in Tokyo, Japan exceeded the US EPA reference dose. The report demonstrates the need for a treaty that effectively addresses mercury releases.

The US is only now starting to see progress in reducing mercury emissions. In America, citizen action forced EPA to adopt the first ever mercury and air toxics rule in 2012. This rule will prevent 90% of the mercury in coal burned at power plants from being emitted into the air. Experts estimate the rule will, among other things, prevent annually up to 6,000 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, 3,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 4,000-11,000 premature deaths.

Moreover, experts predict the rule will save $40-70bn in healthcare costs annually. Imagine the benefits if these reductions were implemented globally.

Coal barons and mining magnates are profiting from poisoning the rest of us. As coal consumption dwindles in the US, these companies are exporting their deadly product to the rest of world. A recent report from World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that almost 1,200 additional coal-fired plants are planned for development around the world.

But the mercury treaty is likely to call simply for reductions on a per facility basis, rather than an overall reduction in mercury emissions to air and water. As a result, the treaty could legitimize increased mercury pollution as the number of coal-fired power plants increases globally. Moreover, there is no agreement that the treaty should even require existing facilities to apply the best available techniques to reduce mercury releases.

We need a mercury treaty that actually reduces global mercury pollution. A treaty that fails to include mandatory mercury reductions overall will dishonor the victims of Minamata disease and accelerate mercury poisoning across the globe.

Those of us who care about public health and clean water, must stand strong and shame the spineless diplomats in Geneva into crafting a treaty that truly prevents the devastating environmental and public health impacts of mercury. your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

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+36 # Rita Walpole Ague 2013-01-11 14:06
And, dear Bobby Kennedy, Jr., full of courage and determination we must be also in standing up against our current politician clowns here in the U.S. of (greed and power) A.(ddiction).

How I'd hoped for change in 2008, as I worked hard to get a Pres. I now call Oh Bomb Ah elected. But, dear, I've got a feeling that your father and ancestors, like a certain Dem., Pres. ancestor of mine (Andrew Jackson) are puking in their graves at all the ruination of our planet and attempted enslavement of all we the sheeple.

Thanks for this educatin' article you've posted. My mantra these days:

+11 # Ralph Averill 2013-01-12 05:13
Rita, darling! Change rarely originates from the top, no matter who is president. Get a green party going in your town. Run candidates for zoning, bd of ed. etc. then shoot for the state legislature. That's what the Greens did in Europe. The process is slow and takes a lot of work, but now there are wind turbines all over Europe.
I think it unlikely that a man with an ego like Andy Jackson's, who should have been impeached for defying Congress on the settlement of Indian Territories, would give much of a damn. He would probably be doing the same thing himself were he alive today.
+3 # Smokey 2013-01-12 09:37
[quote name="Ralph Averill"] "Change rarely originates from the top, no matter who is President. Get a Green Party going in your town. Run candidates for zoning, bd of ed. etc. then shoot for the state legislature. That's what the Greens did in Europe. The process is slow and takes a lot of work, but now there are wind turbines all over Europe."

I have some mixed feelings about the Green Party - in fact, I'm wary of all political parties - but I give the Greens high marks for trying to bring human rights concerns, economic justice projects, and environmental protection topics together.

Maybe the Greens arrived too early on the American political scene. Even among the "liberals," there are still too many people who believe that significant "environmental leadership" will come from the Audubon Society and other conservation corporations.
(The big conservation groups have never expressed much interest in economic justice, anti-racism work, the rights of women, etc., etc.)

As the problems of economic and environmental injustice increase - yes, the two are related - the Greens may attract more support.

Other possibilities? Possibly a new "eco-fascism," with lots of emphasis on pure foods, living the rugged life, and keeping the 47% under strict control, "to serve Nature."

Earth First! (Yeah, sure.)
+2 # Doubter 2013-01-12 22:46
Don't forget/leave out
+30 # Surflar 2013-01-11 19:48
How about the mercury light bulbs that puts toxic waste in our homes? Outrageous!
+23 # Ralph Averill 2013-01-12 05:22
All flourescent lamps contain mercury vapor, even the compact ones they tell everyone to use in their homes. You don't have to use them. I don't. If you take into account the much greater energy needed to manufacture compact flourescent lamps, plus the issue of what to do with the mercury when the lamps burn out, there isn't any saving.
LED's are the future. If you can afford them now, (they're going to get a lot cheaper soon,) use them in your house and hold your environmentalis t head high.
+14 # DaveM 2013-01-11 23:00
Do you ever throw away light bulbs? Televisions/mon itors? A broken fever thermometer? If you did, you distributed metallic mercury into the environment.

Fortunately, mercury in its pure metallic form is relatively benign unless vaporized. Methylmercury salts and related compounds (which caused the mass poisoning in Minamata) are extremely toxic....and emerging from any number of smokestacks and waste discharges around the globe.

Here in Northern Minnesota many of the fish have high concentrations of mercury. The original source was Canadian power plants and paper mills. The latter source has, thankfully, reduced emissions considerably. But now mercury vapor is emitted when the wood from trees grown during the major polluting era is burned for heat.
+4 # Glen 2013-01-12 12:07
Game and fish regulation books in Arkansas offer mercury warnings against eating fish out of many of the streams - water that used to be pristine, coming from an amazing underground water system throughout the Ozarks. There are similar systems in other territories, also, that are now polluted with herbicides, fertilizers, you name it, running south from one state to the next.

It is impossible to stop the pollution spreading throughout the country, and the planet.
+11 # divadoc 2013-01-11 23:43
It is certainly true that we need regulation of mercury emissions. AND what's also true is that Mercury was for several hundred years the PRIMARY treatment for Syphilis (and multitudes of other illnesses). Patients would be 'salivated': i.e. given mercury until it reached a toxic dose, salivation being a sign of Mercury toxicity. Mercurochrome; Calomine lotion; Calomel (the 'cal' indicates mercury as an ingredient.) Not to mention mercury amalgam dental fillings, the dangers of which the ADA persists in denying; not to mention the mercury in childhood vaccines, considered by many to at least a partial etiology of autism. Mercury toxicity is rampant in modern culture. It bears reduction, indeed; but coal burning is not the only, and possibly not even the worst, source.
+26 # readerz 2013-01-11 23:44
Every heavy metal, chloride compound with vinyl such as dioxin and PVC, radiation, unknown fracking chemicals, creates disease. We have become serial killers as a society, and our "jail" is uninhabitable.

This week, I was told that my husband is now stage 4 colon cancer, and has 2 to 4 months to live. Most questions will become irrelevant for me; and sorry, I will become impoverished (don't be a "traditional" spouse), and I will no longer be able to afford healthcare. I might not be posting on the "comments" page much because I will be very busy, but I will be thinking about everybody and these causes. Why are we still turning our world into a lifeless desert?
+8 # hoodwinkednomore 2013-01-12 11:35
My best thoughts are with you and your husband!! Your thought-provoki ng and thoughtful comments have been much apppreciated! Peace
+3 # X Dane 2013-01-12 16:06
I am sorry to her about the hardship and problems you and your husband are facing.
I will be thinking about you and hoping you have friends near, who can support you.

I wonder where you live? some states are more helpful that others, Also I hope you can get help from hospice. My thoughts are with you.
+4 # Patrice Ayme 2013-01-13 07:13
Condolences. They are turning the planet into a desert, because it's profitable, profitable, at least to them, and they enjoy having what others cannot possibly get, more than roughly anything else.
-6 # Doc E 2013-01-12 02:05
How about all of the CFC bulbs Big guv makes you buy? I'm sure you smart guys know what inside of them? MERCURY, chump!!
+5 # readerz 2013-01-12 08:31
See Ralph Averill above: LEDs are the future.

Further, people need to watch out for their LED transformers: they give off heat, and need ventilation. Some of them are not fire-safe. The wasted heat energy should be used as electricity, but most often the really great LED lights are coupled with very small, cheap, inefficient transformers. Better to have two electrical systems in a home, one for motors and refrigerators, and the other: an efficient transformer that gives 9 volt DC current for your LED lights, computers, smoke detectors, phone chargers, etc.
0 # reiverpacific 2013-01-12 18:59
Quoting Doc E:
How about all of the CFC bulbs Big guv makes you buy? I'm sure you smart guys know what inside of them? MERCURY, chump!!

What are you a "Doc" of, inverted reason?
Eahhh, what's up w'ya doc?
+8 # cordleycoit 2013-01-12 03:06
If you want further reading try W.Eugene Smith's Minamata and you will see quite graphically what happens when mercury gets loose n the environment.
+5 # itchyvet 2013-01-12 03:41
Hey, I've got an idea, instead of rabbiting on about mercury contamination, why not change the subject matter to DEPLETED URANIUM and NUCLEAR CONTAMINATION from Fuskashima ?
IMHO, far more relevent these days.
+15 # readerz 2013-01-12 08:21
It's all relevant, urgent, and part of the world-wide self destruction.
+7 # Smokey 2013-01-12 09:41
[quote name="readerz"] "It's all relevant, urgent, and part of the world-wide self destruction."

You're correct! Why should we try to control one pollutant while ignoring others?
+7 # unocelestial 2013-01-12 04:15
Please run for Senate or Congress!
+8 # pbbrodie 2013-01-12 06:57
I simply can not understand the people crafting these treaties. This is no different than urinating in your own drinking water! And, signing a treaty allowing your neighbor to urinate in your well, as well.
+11 # Smokey 2013-01-12 09:57
I've been told that the "New York Times" has decided to eliminate its bureau for environmental reporting. It was one of the last of the big news teams with a focus on environmental topics.

Very sad. The "Times" has its faults but it was nice to know that one of the big newspapers had a significant interest in environmental topics.

However, I'm sure that we'll continue to see lots and lots of "news articles" that mention energy and the environment. The big energy companies will send out lots of press releases and they'll produce some colorful television reports. (Your kids may see this stuff in public schools. Do you remember "Our Friend Mr. Atom"? It explained the benefits of nuclear power.)

Maybe today's kids will see "Our Friend Mr. Tar Sands." Or, maybe, they'll get, "Dick and Jane Visit a Pipeline."

That's what we'll get, when we let the big corporations dominate "reporting" on energy and environmental topics.
+4 # X Dane 2013-01-12 16:18
They want to pull the wool over our eyes, while they are destroying our word. Way too many people don't understand and /or are not interested.

I do not understand many of my contemporaries. When I talk with them about, for instance, Climate Change, or the Mercury problem, they do not seem very interested. I think they feel I am too intense.
+1 # Doubter 2013-01-12 23:10
Speculation: The concept of there being an "Illuminati" (or whoever/whateve r is in charge) plan to reduce population now that less workers are needed could be true...
0 # X Dane 2013-01-13 02:04
oops, that should be world...noy word
+11 # Vardoz 2013-01-12 10:26
We don't eat fish anymore that are filled with Mercury and PCB's and rice has high levels of Arsenic. All produce tested has Jet fuel in it not to mention the tens of thousands of toxic substances that have saturated our environment. White rice being the worst.Humans have literally poisoned the entire ocean and land. Everywhere humans go destruction is sure to follow. We love Robert Jr. He should have his own show on Current TV.
+5 # hoodwinkednomore 2013-01-12 11:31
'Patriot' you make some good points but your racist, nationalistic, and extreme comments do not deserve space on RSN comments boards. Please control yourself and stick to the point: Mercury. Nothing to do with our President or where he was born, nor what 'color' you ascribe him to be.
+3 # reiverpacific 2013-01-12 12:31
"Next week, DIPLOMATS from around the world will gather in Geneva to negotiate a treaty on global emissions of mercury"
[quote from article] -capitals mine-.
All I can say is no wonder they are making little to no progress "Diplomats" are exactly the wrong types to address anything threatening the globe. Hell they are a big part of the problem (and I'm not an anit-government Libertarian BTW; quite the contrary). I imagine they'll love the luxurious expense-account accommodations, crystal clean air, waters and scenery around Lake Geneva whilst discussing "Diplomatically " the problems of mercury poisoning from heavy industry.
Why don't the have these things in places like Albany NY or even Bejing, where the air is barely breathable from industrial and exhaust emissions, and send scientists who are actually dealing with this stuff.
Example; the only way that smallpox was tackled successfully in the 1950' and 60's was by teams of courageous scientists, doctors, nurses and technicians breaking every bureaucratic and diplomatic rule set by the WHO.
0 # Anita Vazquez Tibau 2013-01-13 11:04
Thank you for reporting on these current negotiations. I am in Geneva at the final INC 5. It is imperative to educate the masses on the dangers of all mercury containing products, especially in
the mercury in dental fillings and in vaccines...It still amazes me
that there is still pressure to continue the use in these products, when all mercury products should be eliminated specifically due to the direct exposure to humans. There is no place in society for any mercury to be put into the human body in the name of good health practices!
+1 # tigers 2013-01-13 21:58
As well as addressing the mercury coal issue which is so important, please consider that each one of those so-called "green" compact fluorescent light bulbs also contains mercury. They should NOT go in the garbage. One wonders how often one is broken in the household and at the dump. Yowsers!

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