Mercury treaty fails to offer poor gold miners a quicksilver solution | Paige McClanahan

From Global development | The Guardian Mon Jan 21 2013, 15:56:13

New measures may not go far enough to help artisanal gold miners, who face significant health risks from mercury exposure

The new mercury treaty will rewrite the rules on how the toxic element can be used around the world. But it remains unclear how the treaty will affect those facing some of the greatest health risks from the substance: small-scale gold miners in the developing world.

"The scientific evidence is so incontestable ... and the health impacts are so debilitating," says Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (Unep). "We want to find a way in which mercury can be taken out of the small-scale gold mining sector. Unbeknown to many of the people who are engaged in this gold mining, it is a very harmful compound."

The mercury treaty, which was finalised in Geneva after a five-day negotiating marathon that finished early on Saturday morning, will regulate the supply, trade and use of the substance. Under the terms of the treaty, governments will be encouraged - but not obliged - to take measures to manage the health impacts of mercury exposure. In countries where artisanal gold mining takes place, governments will be required to draft national action plans to reduce its use.

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