The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) is seeking the support of the Federal Government of Nigeria towards the adoption of an international agreement on mercury. n a recent correspondence to Environment Minister, Hadiza Mailafia, the ZMWG wants the government to be actively involved when governments meet in Geneva, Switzerland, this month for the fifth and final negotiation on the issue. The ZMWG had earlier presented its findings on global mercury seafood contamination, with health effects occurring below the level considered “safe” just a few years ago – suggesting current health benchmarks should be revised.
Leslie Adogame of the ZMWG declared: “We highlighted new scientific evidence that for the first time correlates rising mercury levels in the oceans with the growth in pollution and also projects a 50 percent increase in mercury levels by 2050 in the Pacific Ocean if current pollution trends continue unabated.”
He stated that, in Nigeria as well, levels of mercury in the general environment (health and industrial products, ASGM, Oil and Gas) ultimately in fish and seafood have continued to increase significantly since the past two decades beyond permissible levels by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
According to him, “the experience of the Zamfara incident in March 2009 generated global and national concern as a one major chemical disaster and is still very fresh in our memory. Nigeria therefore requires playing a leading role for the rest African countries to stem the rising tide of mercury pollution and finalize a strong treaty.”
Adogame, who is also of the Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev Nigeria), emphasised that this and other new evidences demonstrate that the mercury threat has grown substantially since the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) global mercury assessment report was completed just after the turn of the century.
“Since 2001, countries around the world have been discussing options to control mercury pollution and in 2003 the UNEP Governing Council agreed that enough was known to ‘…warrant immediate action to reduce global mercury pollution.’ Now over a decade has past and the time for bold and corrective action has come,” he said.
He went further: “The solution is not for people to stop eating fish since the nutritional benefits are substantial and many small island countries, indigenous people and others sustain on fish. While informing consumers about low mercury fish is essential to reduce exposure, it should not be a substitution for the ultimate goal: to reduce mercury contamination and all sources of exposure to the lowest possible levels in the shortest amount of time.
“Fortunately, the world community can come to grips with the global mercury crisis. Since 2009, governments have been negotiating an internationally binding agreement to control mercury pollution. The treaty is expected to include actions to reduce among others, mercury supply, trade, its use in products and processes, and atmospheric mercury emissions, which will ultimately reduce human exposure to mercury globally. Yet so far the negotiations have been slow going.
“This is not because alternatives or solutions are absent; the technology is available to manage mercury pollution – we know how to control mercury emissions, and there are mercury-free alternatives for nearly all mercury-containing products and industrial processes. What is missing is the political will to make the necessary commitments to phase out mercury use, and put the needed controls and alternatives in place.
“Therefore, as detailed in our comments on the final draft treaty text, we call on the Nigerian government to work toward a successful outcome in Geneva; an ambitious treaty leading to serious emissions reductions and mercury use phase outs for our children and for future generations. The final treaty negotiation session in Geneva is our world’s last chance to create a strong program for international action and cooperation.”
The correspondence was likewise endorsed by Elena Lymberidi-Settimo and Michael T. Bender, both ZMWG International Co-coordinators.