Tag Archives: products and processes

Products and Processes: An Explanation of Positive and Negative Lists

One of the main issues on the table during the mercury negotiations leading up to INC5 has been how to deal with products and processes containing mercury. In particular, the question of whether to adopt a “negative list” or a “positive list” approach was heavily debated.

So what’s the difference?

  • A negative list approach would mean a ban on mercury use in all products and processes, with the exception of a few agreed upon and listed uses. To remember this, think n = “no mercury use is allowed (possibly with exceptions).”
  • A positive list approach would only ban mercury use in products and process that are explicitly agreed upon and listed. Think p = “list of prohibited products and processes”

The mercury treaty negotiations have separated products and processes into two different annexes: Annex C and Annex D. For Annex C, which addresses mercury-added products, INC5’s contact group on selected technical articles proposes to use what is being called a “hybrid list” approach: basically, 1) they have listed the products that are banned (i.e., a positive list), and all other mercury-containing products are allowed, but 2) products that are in the banned list are allowed when used for certain, very specific uses (such as civilian protection or military uses).

Annex D, which addresses manufacturing processes in which mercury or mercury compounds are used, currently takes a positive list approach: only the processes that are listed are banned, all others are allowed.

While these Annexes currently appear to be settled, a lot can happen in the last hours of the treaty negotiations, and it remains to be seen how exactly products and processes will be regulated by the treaty.

Watch our blog and track us on twitter @lncz and @MITmercury to see how the produces and processes part of the treaty comes together!

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 4—Wednesday, January 17

by Mark Staples

Day 4 marked the beginning of the second half of INC5. A lot of work remains to be done before a global mercury treaty can be agreed to, and the delegates were eager to get down to work in their contact groups.

Supply and Trade, ASGM, & Waste

Work continued on Article 3 concerning supply and trade in the selected technical articles contact group, focusing specifically on the notification requirements for mercury export and import. Delegates debated the merits of a mechanism similar to prior informed consent from the Rotterdam Convention applied to the mercury trade.  While such a mechanism would give importing states more control over the mercury trade, some delegates argued that it would be too burdensome. There was also debate concerning whether or not the trade restrictions should apply to mercury compounds in addition to elemental mercury.

As the contact group worked late into the night, they were expecting to hear back from drafting groups on alternative and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) issues and primary mercury mining, and intended to finish their mandate before breaking for the night.

Products & Processes

Because they were occupied with supply and trade and ASGM issues, the contact group did not devote much time to the product and processes text. However, co-chair Abiola Olanipekun did introduce CRP 14 in the afternoon plenary, which despite many remaining brackets, will be sent to the legal group for polishing before reconsideration in the contact group.

Financial & Technical Assistance

Article 15 on financial assistance was discussed in morning plenary, with all countries agreeing that a special financial regime is needed to assist countries in implementing this convention. While finances have historically been considered a “developed vs. developing” country issue, Switzerland made the point that effective finance is in all parties’ interests. After only short discussion, Article 15 was sent to a contact group that will meet tomorrow.

After a day of small-group negotiations, a revised Article 16 on capacity building, technical assistance, and technology transfer was presented as a package to our contact group. With only a few hurdles, it was fully accepted and was presented in this afternoon’s plenary session. Chair Lugris thanked this contact group for setting the tone of progress as he sent the article off to the legal group.

Institutions & Implementation

In the morning, a separate contact group was convened to work on sections of the treaty text related to definitions, institutional linkages, and implementation—an ambitious set of topics. Before lunch, the group set to work on the definitions of mercury, mercury compounds, mercury-added products, and use allowed. While it might seem like these definitions should be fairly obvious, delegates were on the lookout for any technical or legal ambiguities that could leave the door open for loopholes or non-compliance. Definitions were agreed upon for most of these terms, with the exception of “use allowed.” In the evening, the group divided into even smaller working groups for informal negotiations on the question of implementation/compliance/implementation and compliance committees.

Emissions & Releases

Delegates working on emissions had a productive day, generating papers on what kinds of mercury emissions sources will be included in the treaty, and making progress on the issue of releases to land and water.

Annex F on the included emissions sources is now nearly complete. “Sources included” now refers specifically to point sources from major agreed-upon categories, with only two categories still up for debate: iron and steel (and secondary steel), and open burning. The group seemed to reach a consensus on control measures for new sources, and is currently discussing the complex issue of addressing existing sources.

The MIT team enjoys a Swiss Break with some new friends. Photo credit: Earth Negotiations Bulletin: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc5/

The MIT team enjoys a Swiss Break with some new friends. Photo credit: Earth Negotiations Bulletin: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc5/

At the Swiss break, chocolate incentives were offered to spur the delegates. In the emissions contact group, the chair brandished the reward, and good-naturedly warned the delegates that he would eat all the chocolate himself if they did not finish the draft text on emissions promptly.

Afternoon Plenary

In an address to the plenary, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, along with Swiss Environment Minister Doris Luethard, urged delegates to forge ahead and to do their best to reach agreement on the treaty text by Friday. The Minister pledged 1 million Swiss Francs as an interim contribution to the future convention on behalf of the Swiss government, and the governments of Norway and Japan each matched the pledge.

The objective is to have the draft text complete by today, Thursday, at lunch in order to complete the treaty by 6pm on Friday. Will they make it? Stay tuned to find out! We’ll be eagerly following the proceedings on Twitter (@MITMercury) and here on our blog.

Mercury in Unexpected Products

by Hannah Horowitz

Written by Hannah Horowitz from Harvard University, this is the second in our series of Guest Scientist Blogs. Hannah is a graduate student in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University and a member of the Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group. Her research focuses on the environmental fate of mercury used in products and processes, and modeling the terrestrial mercury cycle.    Email: hmhorow@fas.harvard.edu        Website: http://people.fas.harvard.edu/~hmhorow/

When I first began my research on mercury used in products and processes, I was taken aback to learn that there were over 3000 known applications of the heavy metal [1]. What’s more interesting than the sheer number are some specific products containing mercury that are particularly surprising and unexpected. The vast variety of applications of mercury in the past and present are a result of its many unique chemical and physical properties. Its toxicity makes the disposal of mercury-containing products – some of which we may not realize are in our homes, schools, and businesses – challenging.

Some gym floors can release a lot of mercury.

Some gym floors can release a lot of mercury.

Polyurethane flooring used in school gymnasiums and indoor and outdoor tracks from the 1960s-1985 in the United States contain mercury used as a chemical catalyst [2]. One gym floor in Minnesota released mercury equivalent to breaking 280 compact fluorescent light bulbs per day, even 24 years after its installation [3]. However, measured concentrations and calculated total exposure in gyms tested in Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota did not exceed levels that would result in health impacts [2, 4] from chronic (long-term) or acute (short-term) mercury exposure: 750 ng/m3 during 16 – 40 hours per week over a year, and 1800 ng/m3 for one hour, respectively [5]. Proper ventilation was key to reducing mercury levels [4]. However, average concentrations in Minnesota gyms were still around 200 times higher than typical outdoor background concentrations of 1.5 ng/m3 [6].

If a gym floor is believed to contain mercury, floor and air mercury concentrations should be measured, with help from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). If recommended exposures are exceeded, time spent in the gym should be limited, ventilation should be increased, and the floor may need to be removed (see [5]). Removal should be done carefully, as disturbing the floor may release more mercury than normal use [4]. Depending on its mercury content, the floor should be treated as hazardous waste or disposed in a lined landfill with leachate collection to prevent environmental releases [4].

Fishing lures

Fish lures can contain mercury.

Fish lures were once made using mercury.

Between the 1920s and the 1950s, fishing lures were made with visible liquid mercury inside to create motion and a shiny appearance to better attract fish [7]. Perhaps these mercury-containing fishing lures helped fishermen become exposed to methylmercury through the fish they successfully caught!

Now, care should be taken to avoid breakage and mercury release from the antique, fragile lures. For proper disposal, they should be brought to a hazardous waste collection program (varying state-by-state in the US) so the mercury can be removed and recycled [7].

Expected use in unexpected places

You can clearly see the mercury in this switch.

You can clearly see the mercury in this switch.

Some of the more typical uses of mercury – electrical switches and relays, lighting, and batteries – are widespread in many products that may be surprising. Mercury switches and relays help ovens and irons (pre-1990) shut off automatically [8, 9], thereby helping to prevent house fires. Similar switches and relays in cars brake with anti-lock brake systems (pre-2004) [10]  help prevent car crashes. However, these mercury-containing products may lead to environmental mercury contamination if their disposal is not handled properly. Electric lighting using mercury is ubiquitous – for example, LCD displays in cameras and sewing machines, UV lamps in printers, or fluorescent lamps in scanners and portable DVD players [8] to name a few. Button cell batteries present in children’s toys, calculators, and watches can also contain mercury [8, 11] and may be imported from other countries with less stringent mercury regulations [11].

The consumer should remove batteries from smaller products and contact their local municipality to find out about household hazardous waste collection services before throwing the object away [7, 12], so that they will not end up landfilled or incinerated along with general waste [13]. Electronics and larger appliances should also be collected if possible, and may be accepted by the original retailer depending on where you live (these services may or may not be free) [7, 12]. In the US, some automobile collection companies partner with End of Life Vehicle Solutions (or are mandated to do so by state law) to remove mercury-containing switches prior to turning the car into scrap metal, in order to prevent mercury emissions [10].

For more information, see the New England Waste Management Association’s mercury legacy products website.


  1. Nriagu, J. O. (1979), The biogeochemistry of mercury in the environment, Elsevier/North-Holland Biomedial Press, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
  2. http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/projects/legacy/schools.cfm#gf
  3. http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/conferences/sciandpolicy/presentations/Herbrandson-Bush_Session3B.pdf
  4. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/pha/MercuryVaporReleaseAthleticPolymerFloors/MercuryVaporRelease-FloorsHC092806.pdf
  5. http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/hazardous/topics/mercury/hgflooringprofguide.pdf
  6. Slemr, F., E. G. Brunke, R. Ebinghaus, and J. Kuss (2011), Worldwide trend of atmospheric mercury since 1995, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 11(10), 4779-4787.
  7. http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/projects/legacy/sport.cfm#fl
  8. https://imerc.newmoa.org/publicsearch/NEWMOA_IMERC.aspx#/CustomizedSearch
  9. http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/projects/legacy/appliances.cfm#ci
  10. http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/projects/legacy/automobiles.cfm#abs
  11. http://www.chem.unep.ch/mercury/GC-23-responses/GOV/Denmark-attachment-mercuryreport2004.pdf
  12. http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/business/topics/waste/32096.aspx
  13. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/mercury/pdf/study_report2008.pdf


Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 3—Tuesday, January 16

by Alice Alpert

Day 3 began with snow falling, turning Geneva into a winter wonderland.


Everyone eagerly anticipated the first of the Swiss breaks, to be held in the evening. However, we are no longer “early” in the negotiations, so parties were eager make some progress before the Swiss break festivities began.

Here’s a recap of progress made on different topics.

Products and Processes

The technical articles contact group made progress on setting the mercury concentrations that different types of lightbulbs can contain, although the phase-out dates remain undecided. A breakout group, facilitated by one of the co-chairs, was started to address the controversial dental amalgam issue.

The group is in the midst of working through the annex regarding products and processes that will be exempt from regulation: antiques were removed because they are not being currently manufactured; there will be exceptions for some research and calibration standards (although there is no consensus yet exists on the details); thiomerisol will be allowed as a preservative in vaccines; polyurethane, vinyl chloride monomer, and sodium methylate are still under review. The group discussed the idea of discouraging distribution in commerce as a process provision rather than an outcome provision.

Emissions and Releases

In the morning, a technical group of about 30 attendees was tasked with discussing possible options for characterizing the nature of emissions and releases regulations. The group agreed that it would be useful to narrow the scope of the treaty to major sources, but there was no consensus around the several threshold types discussed (e.g., do you regulate based upon capacity, intensity, or aggregate emissions?).  In the afternoon and evening, the full emissions contact group reconvened and agreed to eliminate certain small-source categories. Into the evening, they were discussing releases, looking to start forming some draft text. Memorably, in response to one delegate’s suggestion that a ton of mercury was a small amount of emissions,  another party replied: “No single raindrop feels responsible for the flood.”

Institutions and Implementation

The treaty objective and definitions were discussed in morning plenary, focusing on whether a dedicated, stand-alone article on health impacts was required or even warranted. The plenary was divided on the issue: one side was of the opinion that a separate health article duplicates other sections of the text and/or impinges upon the effort of the World Health Organization, while the other side sees a stand-alone article as paramount to reaffirming the objective of the treaty. Many NGOs submitted interventions supporting the health article.

Also in plenary, parties showed no movement on how to ensure domestic implementation, with many developing nations saying that a uniform requirement for submitting a plan to meet treaty obligations did not take into account differing national socio-economic conditions. In the evening, a contact group on the implementation and health issues met. Gridlock continued, and a small group decided to work through the night to submit a suitable proposal in the morning.

Financial and Technical Assistance

Much of the work in this area occurred in a small contact group of “friends of the co-chairs”, which continues to discuss Articles 16 and 16bis regarding technical assistance and technology transfer. Article 17—which concerns whether to establish a committee for implementation or for compliance (or both)—was up for discussion in the afternoon plenary session. Several countries voiced the opinion that they would like the membership of and mechanism for decision-making by this group to be specified in the treaty,  rather than by the conference of parties. These specifics will be considered in a contact group set to convene on Day 4.

Supply and Trade, AGSM, and Waste

Work in this area began at 11pm in the technical articles contact group, with a discussion of Article 3 on supply and trade. One of the biggest struggles involved whether existing primary mining should be banned; this decision is still in a deadlock. The group didn’t break until after 1am, and we can expect more work on Day 4.

Highlight of the day

After the second plenary session, the loudspeakers came to life with the song “Under Pressure,” (featuring Freddie Mercury)—just to drive the point home. Then the Swiss break began, providing delicious food, wine, and opportunities for delegates to work out compromises in informal consultations.


The Swiss break also notably featured video footage of traditional Swiss culture, including whipcracking and running around in leaf costumes, in addition to skiing and yodeling. While the Swiss music was questionable, the event did not disappoint. We look forward to our second Swiss break this evening, and hope that the negotiations make significant progress in the meantime.

Issue Overview: Mercury Waste

by Danya Rumore and Mark Staples

Danya and Mark here. During the INC5 negotiations, we’re covering issues related to mercury waste, mercury trade, and artisanal and small scale-gold mining (ASGM). We’ll be providing overviews of each of these issues separately, to make them more digestible. Here, in the first of our three Issue Overview installments, we provide an explanation of the mercury waste issue, what is already included in the draft treaty text about this issue, and what is likely to be discussed—and hopefully decided—in the week ahead.

The use of mercury in products and processes has a long history, with evidence of human use of mercury dating as far back as 5000 BCE.

Although awareness of the health and environmental impacts of the toxic metal has resulted in reduced use of mercury in many industries, it is still present in many products and processes, including light bulbs, cosmetics, and chlor-alkili production. Many mercury-containing products eventually end up in landfills or other waste sites, and leftover mercury compounds from industrial processes often enter the waste stream. When deposited in landfills, mercury-containing waste, over time, releases mercury into the environment. More problematically, incineration and the combustion of mercury containing waste can result in a sudden and significant release of mercury directly into the atmosphere. According to the UNEP Global Mercury Assessment 2013, waste-related sources made up approximately 5% of global anthropogenic emissions in 2010.

While mercury in the waste stream is a pressing issue, the good news is that solutions are available. Controlling and reducing the use of mercury in products can prevent mercury from entering the waste stream in the first place. Since significant amounts of mercury already exist in products and waste, efforts to capture, contain, and recycle mercury-containing wastes are necessary.  Such efforts are already underway, such as the US EPA’s fluorescent lamp recycling program and guidelines in case of releases and spills. Further, emissions controls on waste incinerators can greatly reduce mercury output from waste combustion and should be implemented wherever possible.

During the INC4 negotiations in Uruguay, progress was made on the question of how to address mercury waste in the globally binding agreement. Most prominently, the draft treaty text includes the provision that all parties to the agreement shall take appropriate measures to manage mercury waste in an environmentally sound way, in accord with the Basel Convention. This part of the treaty seems to be generally accepted, although the question of how to manage the transport of mercury across international boundaries in circumstances where the Basel Convention does not apply remains unresolved.

On Monday, the articles of the draft text relevant to mercury waste were introduced in the plenary session. Switzerland, with support from the EU, called for bringing all definitions and procedures for the trans-boundary movement of mercury in line with the Basel Convention. Lebanon expressed a desire for standards specific to mercury waste disposal, and Chile called for a more clear definition of “mercury wastes”. Additionally, whether and how to make parties who have not signed or ratified the Basel Convention comply with transboundary waste movement regulations was discussed.

The draft treaty also includes text related to the identification and management of sites contaminated by mercury. This topic appears to be much more contentious than the topic of waste management. While the draft treaty includes language indicating that action shall be taken to reduce the risk presented by contaminated sites, it remains to be seen whether capacity building and financial and technical assistance will be a necessary condition of including this in the agreement. In the plenary, Japan requested deletion of the capacity building and assistance provision, while Brazil, Iran and Morocco called for its inclusion.

At the conclusion of the plenary session on the second day of official negotiations, the Chair elected to move discussions of the treaty articles on storage, waste, and contaminated sites to the contact group for selected technical articles. Before addressing these issues, the contact group must first work through the products and processes articles. For now, storage, waste, and contaminated sites are on hold. We anticipate they will be picked up again late Tuesday evening or, more likely, early in the day on Wednesday.

As developments emerge, we’ll be posting updates here on our blog and via twitter @markdstaples and @DanyaRumore.  Stay tuned!

History Of Mercury Use in Products and Processes

By Ellen Czaika and Bethanie Edwards

In preparing this blog post, we used information from Brooks’s 2012 chapter in Mercury in the Environment and Nriagu’s 1979 The Biogeochemistry of Mercury in the Environment, unless otherwise noted.

As with most elements, there is a fixed amount of mercury on the planet. This mercury cycles through the deep earth, the atmosphere, the terrestrial reservoir, and various water bodies on timescales that vary from less than a year to tens of thousands of years. Toxicity aside, mercury has many chemical properties that make it useful to humans. Thus, there is evidence that mercury has been utilized throughout antiquity. A human skeleton dating from 5000BCE was found covered in vermillion, also known as cinnabar (HgS). Another historic example of mercury use was found in a 15th century BCE Egyptian tomb ceremonial cup.

Humans have been mining mercury ore from the deep earth (the “lithosphere”) since at least the Roman times. The Romans operated a mercury mine in Spain with prisoner and slave labor. They used mercury as a pigment in their paint; mercury-containing paint has been found in Roman homes buried by the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius in 79CE. The use of mercury in paint has continued into the modern area, although in recent history, mercury was added as a fungicide rather than for its chromatic properties. It wasn’t until 1991 that the use of mercury in paint was phased out in the US.

Aristotle is credited with the oldest known written record of mercury (in an academic text dating back to sometime during the 4th century BCE), in which he referred to it as “fluid silver” and “quicksilver.” This academic text conveyed what alchemists of his day believed: that mercury was the component in all metals that gave them their “metal-ness.” At that time, it was used in ceremonies and to treat skin disorders. In India and China, it was used as an aphrodisiac and for medical therapy circa 500 BCE. Chinese woman are reported to have consumed mercury as a contraceptive 4,000 years ago. Cinnabar is still used as a sedative in traditional Chinese medicine.

By 1000 CE, mercury was used to extract gold by amalgamation. The mercury surrounds the gold, forming shiny pellets that workers then burn. The mercury evaporates, leaving the purified gold. This process is still practiced by artisanal small-scale gold mining operations today, exposing over 10 million of workers to the toxic element and releasing between 650-1000 tonnes of mercury per year into the environment.

Mercury was used in scientific research largely as a result of Torricelli’s 1643 invention of the barometer and Fahrenheit’s 1720 invention of the mercury thermometer. While thermometers in the health care sector are no longer made with mercury, China still produces several measurement devices, such as blood-pressure meters, that contain mercury.

During the Industrial Revolution, various inventions increased the demand for mercury. In 1799, mercury fulminate was first used as a detonator for explosives. In 1835, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was first produced, the original synthesis of which relied on mercury as a catalyst. In 1891, Thomas Edison’s incandescent lamp contained mercury (to this day compact fluorescent light bulbs have mercury added to them.) In 1894, H.Y. Castner discovered that mercury could be used in the chlor-alkali process to produce chlorine and caustic soda. And during WWII, the Ruben-Mallory battery (mercury dry-cell battery) was invented and widely used.

By the early 1900s, the main uses of mercury were in making scientific equipment, recovering gold and silver, manufacturing fulminate and vermilion, and felt-making.  Of note, individuals who made felt hats displayed signs of dementia as a result of mercury poisoning. These “Mad Hatters” were referred to by Lewis Carroll in his book Alice in Wonderland.

By the 1960s, the production of electrical apparati, caustic soda, and chlorine accounted for over 50% of mercury uses. Caustic soda is largely associated with the paper industry; it is used to achieve whiter paper. With the exception of manufactures in China, chlor-alkali production has now shifted to a non-mercury method. However, the chlor-alkali industry still accounts for 1% of total mercury emissions to the atmosphere and potentially a much larger contribution to water and land releases.

Before 1850, the world’s supply of usable mercury was extracted from three mines located in Almaden, Spain (dating back to the Romans times); Idria, Slovenia; and Santa Barbara, Peru (which the Spanish controlled during colonial times). Between 1850 and the 1960’s, the Santa Barbara mine ceased production and mercury mining began in two other regions: in Monte Amiata, Italy, and throughout California in the United States.  The latter coincided with the Gold Rush. Since 1960, other mines have opened in the Soviet block countries, China, Kazakhstan, Algeria, Mexico, and the US state of Nevada. Despite the opening of new mines in recent decades, a report from the EU predicts that recycling of mercury from products and by-products could help meet the mercury demand and further reduce direct mining of mercury.

The historical use of mercury has set the stage for many of the modern products and processes that utilize mercury. It is estimated that, over the last 4000 years, historical and continued use of mercury have released 350,000 tonnes of mercury from the depths of the earth into air, surface land, and water, where it’s toxicity becomes problematic for human health and Earth’s sensitive biosphere.

Humans have been using mercury for various uses for much of history. These uses prompt mining and other ways of making mercury available. Given its long persistence and dangers to health and the environment, it is essential we figure out how to reduce mercury uses and anthropogenic releases.  Because mercury is a trans-boundary traveller, coordination and negotiation at the international level are essential.

Potential limits on mercury used in products and processes

By: Bethanie Edwards

What do compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), dental fillings, PVC, and paper mills have in common? The intentional use of mercury, of course! While toxic, mercury does have remarkable chemical properties that humans have exploited since antiquity. But, mercury added products and manufacturing processes increase release of mercury into the environment. Luckily there are a number of alternatives, restrictions, and control mechanisms that can be put in place to decrease mercury emissions from this sector.

While the mercury in each CFL has declined from 50mg to 2mg in the last three decades, 13% of the mercury contained in CFLs still makes its way into the environment over a product’s lifetime. Recycling bulbs properly and using protective packaging in transit can reduce releases into the environment. However, consumers should consider how their electricity source may influence net mercury emissions. If you live in an area powered by a coal, using CFL bulbs can decrease your carbon footprint and reduce the mercury being emitted into the atmosphere by reducing the amount of coal burned (remember, coal burning is one of the largest sources of mercury). But if you live in an area powered by hydroelectric energy, replacing all your traditional incandescent bulbs with CFLs will reduce your energy consumption but actually increase your mercury emissions.

Dental amalgams or “silver fillings” bind together mercury and other metals and cap the tooth, preventing further decay. Porcelain and compost fillings are alternatives. However, “silver fillings” are cheaper, more durable, require less skill to apply, and represent an important option as access to dental care increases in low-income countries. To reduce the amount of mercury emitted to the environment from the dental amalgam industry, porcelain fillings could be used when affordable or control technologies such as amalgam traps that prevent the mercury from entering the waste stream could be used when “silver fillings” are unavoidable. There is active discussion at INC5 on what to do about dental amalgams.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a widely used construction material. The original method for making PVC required mercury to catalyze the reaction. While a slightly less efficient mercury-free pathway has been utilized by most nations since the 1950s, China and Russia have yet to phase-out the mercury catalyzed method.

Chlor-alkali production also releases mercury. Paper production is the leading demand for caustic soda, a chlor-alkali output, which is used to bleach paper pulp. There are two alternative pathways for chlor-alkali production that do not use mercury. China is the major consumer of mercury in the chlor-alkali industry, whereas, over the past 15 years chlor-alkali plants in other countries have been successfully converted to membrane-based technology, which does not use mercury.

There are several other products and processes that utilize mercury such as, batteries, cosmetics, measuring devices (thermometers and blood-pressure meters), and electronic switches. Batteries have been successfully phase-out through national level initiatives in most countries. However, China still manufactures some mercury batteries as well as thermometers and blood-pressure meters. The US and other nations have also taken domestic action to phase out mercury in electronics. The graph below provides a breakdown of mercury consumed by geographical region according to each product and process.

Mercury used in products and processes in 2005 for each region. From the UNEP 2013 Mercury Assessment.

During the last negotiating session there was an on-going debate as to whether to use a positive or negative list to restrict mercury products and processes. A negative list approach entails a general ban on all mercury added products and processes with a list of exemptions. For example, if a negative list was adopted, all processes that utilized mercury would be prohibited. China could petition the UN to allow the continued manufacturing of VCM using the mercury until they could convert all plants to the alternative manufacturing method. A positive list would only restrict specified products and processes. So if VCM production was not listed as a banned or restricted process, China could continue manufacturing VCM.

Clearly, the negative list is a more aggressive way to reduce the consumption of mercury as only successfully petitioned products and processes would be allowed. However, for many countries the positive list is much more favorable as it ensures economic flexibility. China, the US, and Canada were strong supporters of the positive list. The African Group was a strong proponent of a negative list, reflecting the concern that mercury added products would continue to make their way into Africa as waste. The positive list vs. negative list debate calls into question whether targeting the product and processes that are the largest emitters is adequate or if all mercury products and processes must be addressed.

Right now the draft text lists a number of mercury-added products as to be phased-out by an uncertain date, although the list of products is subject to change as the delegates negotiate. Dental amalgams are subject to restriction. For processes, mercury use in chlor-alkali production is currently on the phase-out list with a date of either 2020 or 2025. VCM production is currently subject to restriction but is not banned. This is noteworthy, since in 2010 VCM production in China (East and Southeast Asia) alone led to more mercury consumption than all products and process in every other region. In short, this is a very important issue.


How the international community arrives at an agreement on limiting products and processes is sure to be a lively and crucial debate. Be sure to keep an eye out for a follow up report on how it all pans outs.

What to Expect from INC5 Day 3–Tuesday, January 15

by Julie van der Hoop

It’s Day 3 of the INC5 negotiations. By now, we’ve all become a bit more familiar the format of proceedings. However, our schedules are becoming more and more fluid as plenary sessions devolve into contact groups, which can have much more unpredictable (read: long) hours.

Contact groups are sessions that occur at the same time as plenary, where countries and observers discuss a particular subject of interest. These sessions are less formal than plenary, and are usually in English only (stay tuned to the blog about interpretation at the UN!). Here at INC5, the Chair has established contact groups to edit particular articles and subsections of the treaty.

That being said, today’s agenda doesn’t explicitly list any contact group meetings. Yet. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the first contact group meetings begin right after lunch, if not before).


Today is the day that we will have one of the negotiations’ biggest questions answered: what is a Swiss break? We’ve been invited by the host country to enjoy their hospitality over dinner hours, 18:00 – 20:00. But what will this Swiss break entail!? Stay tuned for Alice’s daily wrap-up blog, or follow us on twitter @MITmercury or at #MITmercury to find out.

Interested in particular aspects of the treaty discussions? @alicealpert and I (@jvanderhoop) will be covering continued discussions on technical and financial assistance. @Bea_Edwards and @lncz are staying late in the night for work on products and processes, and @markdstaples and @DanyaRumore are summarizing ASGM, supply, waste and trade. Check out @wolfeyp and @amandagiang for more general discussions on institutions and implementation!

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 2 – Monday January 14

By: Leah Stokes

The second day of negotiations at INC5 was a busy day, without any Swiss breaks. Delegates spent significant time discussing key articles on Products & Processes, and Emissions & Releases. Here are some updates from our team’s observations on the proceedings so far. 

Products & Processes

The technical working group focused on products and processes started early and has powered through the entire day. There was a lot of back and forth between the US, Canada, EU, Japan, and the African Group on the one hand and China, India and Brazil on the other about phase-out dates. China was particularly persistent that they could not phase out mercury batteries by 2020, because there are no mercury-free alternatives currently available to China. Compact flourescents and lamps were also hot topics; negotiators broke off into a smaller group around 11:15 PM to try to reach agreement on mercury concentrations and phase-out dates.

The working group has a new co-chair, Donald Hannah from New Zealand. He delivered an inspiring speech at the beginning of the session and set some ambitious goals. “Finding problems with text is unacceptable at this stage of the process,” he told the delegates. “We are not going to let perfection get in the way of a good text.” His expectations for a cooperative and productive group have spurred the discussions forward. By 11 PM, it looked like negotiations on this issue would continue until the middle of the night.

Emissions & Releases

This morning’s plenary session kicked off INC5’s discussion of mercury emissions to air and releases to land and water. Countries noted that emissions and releases were “crucial” and “at the heart” of the treaty. In the plenary, countries sorted into supporting a more stringent approach, binding targets and techniques–option 1–or a more flexible approach with national plans–option 2. With the notable exception of the African Group, developing countries generally favored a flexible approach, while developed countries favored a more stringent approach.

After discussing key issues, the Chair arranged a contact group chaired by John Roberts (UK) and a negotiator from Indonesia. Meeting in the afternoon, the group was tasked with resolving issues around: the use and nature of thresholds to exclude small sources; striking an agreement on the strength of the articles by specifying the precise requirements and controls; and deciding what distinctions should be made between emissions to air versus releases to land and water.

At the end of this meeting, the co-Chairs formed a team to craft the first draft of a new, compromise article (between option 1 and 2) that will specify precise requirements and controls while allowing sufficient flexibility. They are working busily as we craft this blog post. The results of their efforts will be discussed again in the contact group tomorrow. In addition, plans were made for a technical group to provide guidance on the options and implications for various threshold levels and sources in the coming days.

Institutions & Implementation:

Today’s discussions on institutions and implementation in the plenary focused on links with the Basel Convention. Negotiators emphasized there is a need to clarify linkages with Basel, which focuses on chemical waste broadly, and the section in the draft mercury treaty focused on waste. The Chair mentioned that many delegates here worked on drafting the Basel Convention, so he hoped that they would draw their attention to this task. The US notably brought attention to the fact that they had signed the Basel convention; although they have not ratified it.

Definitions was another key issue. There are some proposals for redefining use allowed to ease some of the disagreements in ASGM. More broadly, there is increasing concern that the draft treaty text be consistent across sections, to ensure a smooth implementation.

Financial & Technical Assistance

Discussion in the Financial & Technical Assistance contact group began with restating country positions and then moved to defining technology transfer. It is still undetermined whether the treaty will include both “soft” technology transfer – including best practices and know-how – and/or “hard” technology transfer – namely, the actual technology. As a result, delegates have yet to negotiate a streamlined version of Article 16bis regarding technology transfer.

Discussion of Article 16, regarding technical assistance, centered around whether technological assistance will only flow from developed to developing countries, or will be exchanged among all parties. This discussion was facilitated by a colorful and popular metaphor of countries ‘dancing the tango and deciding who will lead’—doubltless, some stepping on partners’ toes will occur. As of 10 PM, it appeared that all parties would cooperate to provide [something], to developing countries in particular. What that ‘something’ is remains unknown. Although the chairwoman from Jamaica is providing firm and insightful guidance, there is still much to be decided in this area.

Supply & Trade, ASGM and Waste

Supply & Trade, ASGM and Waste were all introduced in the afternoon plenary session today.

On Supply & Trade, countries debated whether to ban existing and future primary mercury mining, with Chile arguing a ban would set a precedent for other treaties. In addition, the specificity of import/export procedures and their similarity to the Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions was a critical issue, as was the question of whether Prior Informed Consent was needed before mercury was traded.

On AGSM, parties discussed whether text should be included for the phase-out of mercury use in ASGM and whether paragraph 6, concerning financial and technical assistance, should be included or deleted. It was unclear whether banning mercury use in ASGM would just push demand for mercury into a black market.

Finally, on waste, the definition of “mercury waste”, and the use of “shall” rather than “may” were discussed in plenary.

The “technical matters” contact group was subsequently tasked with developing clearer text on all these issues. It is unlikely that the contact group will address these issues until late tomorrow.

Daily Roundup for INC5 Day 1—Sunday, January 13

by Danya Rumore

The fifth meeting of the International Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury (INC 5) officially began yesterday on an overcast, chilly day here in Geneva, Switzerland.

The morning began with a demonstration by the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), an organization working for a toxics-free future, at 8:30am. Their main concern: the treaty should be called “A Global Mercury Treaty”, not “A Minamata Convention”, because this treaty may not be sufficient to prevent future mercury-related health tragedies like that experienced in Minamata, Japan.

Following IPEN’s demonstration, we spent about 15 minutes trying to find our way to the third floor balcony in the labyrinthine International Conference Center. Finally making our way through the maze of stairs, hallways, and doors to the NGOs nosebleed seats (to use another attendee’s term), we sat down to enjoy the traditional yodeling session that kicked off the day’s official events.


At 9:30am, the yodeling ceased and the plenary session began.  The session started with the opening ceremony, in which the attendance of about 900 delegates from 140 countries was noted and INC Chair Lugris urged participants to focus on finding consensus. While languages from around the world were spoken on the floor, everything was translated into English (and numerous other languages) and transmitted to participants through headphones available at each seat.


Then came the delegates’ opening statements. In statements ranging from 2-20 minutes, delegates gracefully thanked the Chair for his work, expressed their appreciation for Switzerland hosting the meeting, and made clear their positions on the treaty. I think we were all somewhat amazed by how not surprised we were by nations’ and NGOs opening statements; they were more or less exactly what someone familiar with the issues on the table would expect (opening statements are detailed in the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) newsletter).  However, we were a little surprised—and quite amused—by the Philippines delegate’s mention that he hoped Chair Lugris enjoyed his recent holiday in the Philippines, to which the Chair replied that he did.

Opening statements continued until a little after 1:00pm, when everyone filtered out of the stadium-style plenary room, down the maze of stairs, to the host country’s welcome lunch reception. Despite having to fight against apparently hungry delegates to get food, we enjoyed a buffet including everything from cold cuts and salads to potato soup with truffle oil. We also enjoyed live Swiss music from a band of two musicians dressed in traditional Swiss garb (one barefoot) playing zithers with a third musician, wearing a black suit, playing a bass (it was an interesting trio, but the music was excellent).


Amid the music and buffet, we mingled with delegates and other NGO representatives, talked about our poster with people passing by our table, and discussed the happenings of the morning. Then we loaded up on dessert and plenty of coffee to get us through the afternoon session, and we returned to the plenary for a discussion of the draft treaty text.

The afternoon plenary began with a discussion of the treaty’s preamble, during which delegates proposed adding a direct mention of Minamata, referencing indigenous peoples, including health impacts, invoking the precautionary principle, and bringing the polluter pays principle into the preamble’s language.

Following discussion of the preamble, the plenary moved on to the topic of products and processes (watch for Bethanie’s and Ellen’s upcoming blog on this topic). After much debate about Articles 6, 7, 8, and 8b, it was decided that a contact group would meet in the evening to continue discussion of this topic area.

Before breaking for dinner, the delegate from Saudi Arabia represented the interest of the everyone at the conference by making the statement “We seem to be having problems with the internet…” At a paperless meeting where all documents are shared over the intranet, good internet connection is a non-negotiable issue.


Following a dinner break (i.e., a time to search for outlets in order to charge our laptops), our MIT team divided into two groups: one group returned to the plenary for the discussion of financial and technical assistance and the other group went to observe the contact group discussion on products and processes.

In the contact group on products and processes, the debate about Articles 6, 7, and 8 continued, with the US and Canada largely dominating the conversation. While some progress was made before the close of the session a little after midnight (see ENB newsletter for more details), much work remains to be done on the subject of products and processes.

In the plenary, the discussion about financial and technical assistance was largely dominated by a sharp divide between 1) the nations that love the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the nations that do not love the GEF, and 2) those that want technology transfer and those that are seemingly unwilling (or, as many developed nations put it, not able) to provide it.

The conclusion of the plenary discussion, ending late in the night, was that a contact group would meet today to continue discussion on Article 16 (technical assistance and, possibly, capacity building) but not Article 15 (financial resources and mechanisms). For now, the contentious Article 15 is on hold, and the first item on the agenda for the plenary during day 2 is emissions and releases.

So concluded Day 1 of the INC5 negotiations and, as I write this, day 2 is in full swing. Check out Ellen’s blog on “What to expect from day 2” to learn more about what’s coming up in today’s negotiations.