JULY 2008

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.