On 16 August 2017, the Minamata Convention on Mercury entered into force on a global scale.
Austria was one of the first countries in the world to sign this Convention on 10 October 2013, and ratified it on 12 June 2017. Currently, 74 countries have ratified the Convention. The new multilateral convention on the protection of the environment and human health became binding under international law for Austria on 10 September 2017.
On the basis of an impact assessment, the EU has prepared implementing legislative measures by virtue of the recast of the EU Mercury Regulation (applicable as of 1 January 2018) for combined ratification. The EU and 7 member states have ratified it as early as on 18 May 2017 prior to the first 2017 Conference of the Parties. The German translation of the Convention was agreed between Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the European Commission.
For decades, the town of Minamata had been affected by massive mercury contamination caused by mercury-containing effluents that led to the “Minamata disease” which is a disruption of the central nervous system caused by poisoning with the heavy metal.
Mercury (Hg) is a poisonous heavy metal that is widespread across the environment and accumulates in various organisms. Hg is released into waterbodies and the atmosphere during the weathering of rocks and volcano eruptions, but primarily due to anthropogenic activities, and in particular, through the burning of fossil fuels (mainly coal!), mining activities, industrial processes and through mercury-containing products, such as electrical devices (switches, fluorescent lamps and energy-saving lamps), dental amalgam, measurement devices (clinical thermometers, barometers, laboratory instruments) and batteries. The Convention governs the emissions and releases into the air (see figure), water and soil.