Jan 14 2013
A thick cloud of gray smog choked Beijing, China this weekend as the city’s air pollution levels went dangerously beyond even measurable levels. Much of the pollution is due to the burning of coal which aside from fouling the air, also produces lethal levels of mercury.
Meanwhile, delegates from a 100 nations gathered in Geneva Switzerland yesterday to start the final round of talks to draw up an international treaty on mercury. This treaty will be the first global effort to address serious concerns about a highly toxic metal, which is known to cause severe health problems including brain damage in fetuses and young children.
A recent report by the United Nations Environment Program has found that hundreds of tons of mercury have seeped from the soil into waterways worldwide. The UN Report also found that small scale gold mining operations in Africa, Asia and South America have doubled emissions since 2005.
In the world’s oceans, where fish are consuming mercury at alarming levels, mercury has doubled in the past century. A report by the Biodiversity Research Institute found that fish living in some parts of Japan and Uruguay can not be consumed at all due to such high levels of contamination.
Despite the international gathering in Geneva, scientists are concerned that the treaty will ultimately fail to address the catastrophic consequences of mercury pollution in developing countries. Drafts of the treaty make no attempt at stopping the construction of thousands of new coal burning power plants and do not require clean up of contaminated sites. Western countries have been hesitant to include health prevention and treatment strategies saying that they would add too large a cost.
GUEST: David Evers, Executive Director of Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine.