Today, the European Commission has adopted a proposal to revise the Mercury Regulation to protect EU citizens and the environment from toxic mercury. The revision will fully prohibit the use of dental amalgam, which currently uses 40 tonnes of mercury in the EU annually. It will also prohibit the manufacture and export of certain products containing mercury, such as lamps. The Commission proposal was adopted in parallel to a delegated act, aligning the revision of the Mercury Regulation with decisions taken by the fourth Conference of Parties (COP4) of the Minamata Convention.
The Revised Mercury Regulation:
The revised Mercury Regulation targets the last intentional remaining uses of mercury in a variety of products in the EU in line with commitments set out in the EU’s Zero Pollution Ambition. It sets rules that put the EU firmly on the track to becoming the first mercury-free economy by:
- Introducing a total phase-out of the use of dental amalgam from 1 January 2025 in light of viable mercury-free alternatives, thereby reducing human exposure and environmental burden;
- Prohibiting to manufacture and export of dental amalgam from the EU from 1 January 2025;
- Introducing a prohibition to manufacture and export of six additional mercury containing lamps from 1 January 2026 and 1 January 2028 (depending on the lamps type).
The Delegated Act:
The delegated act adopted under the Mercury Regulation transposes decisions taken at the fourth Conference of Parties (2022) of the Minamata Convention into EU law by introducing a prohibition to the manufacture import and export of eight additional mercury containing products, including mercury-containing lamps and non-electrical equipment. The Minamata Convention is the main international legal framework seeking to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury to air, water and land. Like the Mercury Regulation, it addresses the whole life cycle of mercury, from primary mercury mining to mercury waste disposal.
The revised Mercury Regulation will now be subject to the approval of the European Parliament and the Council as part of the ordinary legislative procedure. The delegated act is transmitted to the European Parliament and the Council for their scrutiny.
Mercury is a highly toxic chemical which represents threats to human health as well as to the environment. When it is released into the environment, it enters the food chain where it accumulates (mainly in fish). Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause harm to the brain, lungs, kidneys and the immune system.
It has been used historically in numerous applications, such as gold extraction, batteries, fluorescent lights, thermometers and barometers. Over the past twenty years the EU has developed a comprehensive body of legislation, especially the Mercury Regulation, which protects human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and, in doing so, addresses the entire lifecycle of mercury from primary mercury mining to the final disposal of mercury waste. This includes measures on trade in products containing mercury and mercury pollution.
The Minamata Convention entered into force on 16 August 2017 and has to date been ratified by the European Union and 143 countries, including all the EU Member States. The fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP-5) will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, from 30 October to 3 November 2023.
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Some of us still remember merrily chasing silver bullets of mercury when a mercury-filled thermometer would break. Thanks to EU law, those games are a thing of the past, and today we are proposing the last intentional uses of mercury to join those broken thermometers in the recycling park of history.
Today, the European Commission adopted its long-awaited proposal for a revised mercury regulation in line with its commitment to ensure a toxic-free environment under the European Green Deal and the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability.
We welcome the Commission’s proposal, considering mercury remains one of the most dangerous elements on Earth due to its high toxicity. Despite current legislation, mercury pollution remains a major issue, affecting people, nature and wildlife everywhere.
We comment the Commission for making words a reality, taking responsibility for what it exports to developing countries; yet the ban on linear and non-linear fluorescent lamps should take place much faster, given these are phased out in the EU.
If the EU bans exports of fluorescent lamps from the EU-27 starting on 31 December 2025, it will avoid 470 million lamps from being shipped between 2026 and 2035. The ban would therefore eliminate 2.6 metric tonnes of mercury from the environment through lamps and avoided power station emissions. With the date pushed back to the end of 2027 around 35% of this mercury will go into the environment.
Satish Sinha, Associate Director at Toxics Link, Associate member of the EEB and member of the Zero Mercury Working Group said:
“This is a very important step from the EU, and we welcome it. The export bans, however, need to happen faster. With the lack of an effective and safe collection and recycling system for mercury-bearing lamps in the country, such imports from the EU represent a real menace to people’s health and the environment.”
As the EU protects its citizens and nature, countries in the EU should not further expose communities and the environment in low- and middle-income countries to the toxicity of mercury by exporting mercury added products banned in the EU. These exports are unethical, and we therefore welcome the proposal of the EU Mercury Regulation which seeks to stop this unacceptable double standard.
After over a decade since the EU consultants had already proposed a total dental amalgam ban, we very much welcome the proposal from the Commission to phase out dental amalgam by 1st January, 2025. This early phase-out is not only realistic, but also necessary considering that dental amalgam represents the largest remaining EU mercury use. It will prevent “new” mercury from (re)entering the EU environment. It is greatly commendable that in line with the above, the EU is now proposing to also ban the exports of dental amalgam by that same date.
However, we regret that the Commission does not foresee to regulate mercury emissions from crematoria. The cremation of the dead is a significant source for the releases of mercury in the atmosphere, with yearly emissions to air estimated at 1.6 tonnes in 2018. However, the cumulative emissions expected given the mercury carried in people’s mouths needs to be calculated. While (new) dental amalgam, causing such emissions, will be phased out, there are over 1000 tonnes of mercury ‘walking’ around on peoples’ mouths in the EU and big part of that could end up in the environment.
If the Commission wants to effectively address mercury pollution and exposure, it should also adopt an EU-wide mercury specific emission limit value (ELV). This is clearly a missed opportunity.
Charline Cheuvart, Policy Officer on Mercury said:
“The proposal comes at a critical time, as Parties around the world are preparing to meet again at the end of October at the next Conference of Parties of the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP5). We hope that the co-legislators will rapidly take an ambitious position to further strengthen the Commission’ s proposal and spearhead discussions at the global level and show to the world EU’s intention to deal a final blow to mercury.”
Courtesy of the EU Commission.
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