EU set to lock down mercury
European decision makers have agreed to implement an
EU-wide ban on exports of mercury and to safely store the surplus. In
a second reading plenary vote, the European Parliament approved the compromise
amendments previously agreed with the Council. “Reason reigned at the
end, narrowly overturning the threat of a deal breaker, said Elena Lymberidi
Settimo, project coordinator of the Zero Mercury Campaign.
Although we would have liked to see a more robust regulation, this agreement
between the two institutions is a very good step towards locking down
mercury in the EU.” Already supported by the Parliament, the compounds
now included in the export ban are cinnabar ore, calomel and mercury
oxide, with some medical and research exceptions. Export of mixtures
of mercury with other substances having a mercury concentration of at
least 95% has also been banned.
The ban now includes those compounds which would otherwise pose a serious
loophole in the regulation. Closing this loophole means that another
50,100 tons of mercury per year, which could have been recovered from
calomel, will not be exported from the EU onto the world market.
Storage of metallic mercury, which is considered waste, will now take
place either temporarily or permanently in underground salt mines and
hard, deep bedrock. In addition, temporary storage is still possible
aboveground. Although the door to permanent underground disposal of liquid
mercury is open, any technological advances in transforming liquid mercury
into a solid compound must now be considered before mercury can be accepted
for disposal into adapted underground facilities.
Several features of the new ban did not come into the compromise agreement,
including extending the scope to mercury-containing products which are
banned from sale in the EU and an import ban. These features are to be
reviewed in the coming years, and the European Commission will present
a proposal for a revision of the regulation by March 2013.
Parliament and Council met half way on the implementation date of the
export ban, which is now set at March 15, 2011.