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Mercury emissions treaty agreed upon by over 140 countries at UN talks

The mercury agreement includes measures to control and limit the use of the highly toxic metal.

Mercury treaty Enlarge
Achim Steiner (R), UNEP Executive Director talks on January 10, 2013 during a joint press conference with Richard Mwendandu, Kenya's Environment ministry's Director of mineral resources in Nairobi, Kenya, where he said that mercury, which exists in various forms remains a global threat to human health and the environment. Parts of Africa, Asia and South America could see increasing emissions of mercury into the environment, owing mainly to the use of the element in small-scale gold mining and to the burning of coal for electricity generation. The announcement comes ahead of a major conference on mercury to be held in Geneva next week and that aims to conclude discussions on a global treaty to minimise risks from mercury exposure. (Tony Karumba /AFP/Getty Images)

The first international mercury agreement was reached at United Nations talks in Geneva Saturday, where over 140 countries voted in support of limiting use of the toxic metal. 

"The new treaty aims to reduce the production and the use of mercury, especially in the production of products and in industrial processes," Franz Perrez, head of the Swiss delegation at the meeting, said in the statement, ABC News reported. "The adoption of the mercury treaty shows the vitality of international environmental politics and the will of states to together find solutions to world problems."

The agreement regulates the supply and trading of mercury, its usage in products and industrial processes, and the reduction of emissions from various facilities, according to BBC News

It also outlines plans to phase out mercury thermometers, light bulbs, and small "button" batteries by 2018 at the earliest, Al Jazeera English reported

Mercury, called a "notorious health-hazardous metal" by UN Environmental Program spokesman Nick Nuttall, has long-term health effects including causing permanent damage to the nervous system, BBC reported.&nbsp

Countries will sign the treaty at a formal ceremony in Minamata, Japan, next October, a town whose residents have suffered from serious mercury contamination for decades, according to ABC News. 

Some, however, are disappointed in the treaty. Science adviser to advocacy group IPEN Joe DiGangi said it was "a first step" but not strong enough to reduce global emissions, according to the Guardian

DiGangi pointed out that the agreement does not demand national plans country-by-country to reduce mercury emissions. 

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