United Nations Environment Programme (2013 Update)

In February 2009, the Governing Council of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) agreed on the need to develop a global legally binding instrument on mercury.

The work to prepare this instrument has been undertaken by an intergovernmental negotiating committee supported by the chemicals branch of the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry, and Economics as secretariat. The goal was to complete the negotiations before the twenty-seventh regular session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in 2013.

SafeMinds was an active participant in this effort, with former Executive Director Eric Uram attending and participating in all meetings.

The fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Global Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury (INC5) concluded In January in Geneva, Switzerland. INC5 was expected to complete the negotiations of the text of a treaty to regulate mercury use at a global scale, with a view to adopting the treaty at a diplomatic conference to be held in Minamata, Japan, in October 2013.

IISD Reporting Services has produced daily web coverage, daily reports, and a summary and analysis from this meeting

The curtain raiser and first daily can be found at:

Curtainraiser (html): http://www.iisd.ca/vol28/enb2816e.html
Curtainraiser (pdf): http://www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb2816e.pdf
Sunday, 13 January (html): http://www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb2816e.pdf
Sunday, 13 January (pdf): http://www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb2817e.pdf

Daily web coverage can be found at: http://www.iisd.ca/mercury/inc5/


A Report from former SafeMinds Executive Director Eric Uram from the INC-5 Meeting in Geneva:

Treaty Negotiations INC5 Wrap Up SafeMinds Perspectives

So what happened in Geneva at the negotiating session for finalizing language contained in UNEP’s international mercury treaty? In particular, when it came to making real headway on addressing the sources of mercury associated with over-exposed kids? In brief: not much. Political will putting people first took a back seat to special interest influence about making profits pretty much across the board.

To give some background, the process for negotiations, a treaty is similar to the lawmaking process here in the United States. UNEP Treaty negotiations allow everyone access to the process.
Just as with federal and state legislatures, access to government officials outside of the negotiations is allowed, and both written and face-to-face communications took place in many countries where interests had a presence.

Similar to elected legislators, only treaty delegates can add, amend, or remove treaty language. Intergovernmental organizations (similar to federal or state agencies) including UNIDO, UNITAR, WHO and other UN affiliates and the UNEP Treaty Secretariats get greater access (and influence) with the delegates, but are still prohibited from participating in negotiations on any specific language.

The process considers all others, including non-government organizations (NGOs, such as SafeMinds) only as observers, allowing us to monitor the process, but allowing extremely limited opportunity to address the delegations.

The negotiations approval process uses consensus instead of a majority rules approach. Any change in language can only occur under consensus from all parties – so adding or removing language requires everyone present to allow it. This means one nation could veto any proposed addition or deletion of language even if everyone else wanted it.

SafeMinds goal in participating, in addition to helping motivate a strong treaty that would effectively address mercury pollution from human activities to reduce negative neurological outcomes, was to seek a call for eliminating purposeful uses resulting in excessive direct exposures. These included all mercury-containing pharmaceutical and personal care products (such as eye makeup and OTC eye, ear and nose sprays and drops), mercury in dental restorations (silver amalgam), and mercury-based vaccine preservatives.

Peer-reviewed published research demonstrating health problems from exposure to the levels of mercury present in these products are compelling enough that we felt decisions on continued uses should require the exercising of the precautionary principle. Lastly, SafeMinds felt any intentional mercury exposure during the pre/post natal window, especially when coupled with other toxic exposures, whether intended or not, has potential to change an individual’s health trajectory over their entire lifetime and should therefore be avoided.

SafeMinds has recognized that these items had readily available, cost-effective alternatives. Numerous documents submitted by SafeMinds during the treaty process spelled out our concerns and the opportunities. Much of this information remains available on the UNEP website.

In a huge setback to advocates calling to end its use and developing nations required to maintain using it, the final version of negotiated treaty language regarding Thiomersal or Thimerosal® use in vaccines (TCVs) contained a “permanent” exemption that can be challenged at any future session by the parties of the treaty—something done every 5 years.

Regarding dental amalgam, options for a phasedown are in place giving hope that TCV issues can receive the same treatment. Delegates currently left an open end-date for use, but having it listed requires regular review and the potential for elevation to phase-out and the eventual termination of amalgam use in all party nations. Once this policy trail is blazed, it should result in an easier effort to follow.

For personal care products, exemptions remain for anything falling in line with FDA guidelines. Eye makeup can still contain up to 65 parts per million (ppm) mercury and the use of Thimerosal in other OTC products, except topical disinfectants, failed to get any mention. The treaty also bans mercury as a biocide in any application except in thimerosal.

The rest of the treaty addressed the control of emissions, elimination of uses by small-scale gold-mining and major industrial processes as well as the cleanup of contaminated sites. Real world success here will depend on either national efforts to address them or the assistance developed economies can provide to nations with economies in development or transition. Good outcomes will require some actions by nations on their own. That said, many countries say they cannot meet all potential obligations without some assistance. As the treaty moves through conferences of parties, changes will occur to how implementation will proceed.

In short, the treaty is not a flying start, but the world now agrees it is time to move forward and find solutions to our rising global mercury dilemma.

In the final outcome, SafeMinds, as well as other groups focusing on the Thimerosal issue including CoMeD, United Methodist Church, and BioAutismo (and many others), were able to educate a whole new group of individuals, many in leadership positions, to increase the public voice speaking on health issues related to mercury exposure (including from vaccines) and enhance the need for vigilance while encouraging demand for research into the potential negative outcomes from vaccine-levels of mercury exposure. Many delegates and NGOs were unaware of the presence of mercury in vaccines until the INC negotiations. Many now have an appreciation of the need to find Thimerosal substitutes or the means to eliminate all preservatives, mercury or not, from vaccines.

More Reporting from INC-5 Meeting:

Read former SafeMinds Executive Director Eric Uram’s Opening Remarks at the INC meeting in Geneva here.


The first day here in Geneva, Switzerland was filled with gathering and meeting fellow non-government organizations (NGOs) about the upcoming negotiations. The representation is highly international, including organizations from Central and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Pacific Islanders, and indigenous peoples from many countries. About 50+ groups are here to make a difference on the future and call for reducing the mercury threat the planet faces.

For many NGOs attending, the exposures their fellow citizens experience would exceed anything someone in the United States might ever see. Medical uses are still allowed—vaccines and topical disinfectants that have long been reformulated or taken off the shelves in the USA—still have as much mercury in them as the ones we used to get over 50 years ago. And this is in addition to the mercury they get exposed to daily. Gold mining pollutes the rivers and lakes as an ancient practice of using mercury to recover the gold. Uncontrolled waste incineration and coal-fired power plants add to the industrial pollution. putting more mercury to the air and contaminating local foods like fish, rice and waterfowl.

Does this sound like a problem waiting to happen for these countries? The WHO doesn’t think so. They are calling for a perpetual exemption to the use of mercury in vaccines. Not some approach that allows for an eventual end to vaccines containing mercury, BUT A PERPETUAL ALLOWANCE TO USING MERCURY IN VACCINES!

And the American Academy of Pediatrics now supports this position. Not just for developing countries, but for the vaccines used EVERYWHERE. The treaty is an international treaty that, if adopted by any country, will require legally binding commitment to the treaty language.




Day 1

The room has now filled with delegates from 200+ nations. The opening statement begins to set the tone for the negotiations. Most countries have given their indications of priorities and issues that need attention. The major issues that have been raised include: the use of mercury in small-scale gold-mining, emissions from coal-fired power plants, and the use in chemical production- chlor-alkali and vinyl-chloride monomer. From there concerns fell off some—but vaccines, dental amalgam, batteries and other consumer products received strong mentions. The African Region and nations in the African region did include thimerosal in their statements and some others were heard—some calling for continued allowance for thimerosal use.

Retaining language to ensure we address vaccines will not happen unless we get enough voices to call for action. The main statement has been the inclusion of political will to address the issues proposed. Vaccines are no different. If we can force action here, we can rid the world of health problems caused by mercury-preserved vaccines.

Day Two
In a move likely to trigger invites from vaccine producers to WHO and FDA for a celebration—Brazil Malaysia, and the USA approved language proposed by Jamaica, Japan, and the EU to permanently allow mercury into vaccines under the Mercury Treaty currently in negotiations. This provision, giving a permanent exemption to thimerosal in the treaty language, is now one step from being finalized by the negotiating committee of over 200 nations. How six countries can lead the world into accepting this fate is a huge crisis.

If approved as the final language by the entire negotiating committee, the provision means that  children around the planet will never be able to get mercury-free vaccines under global health programs, and veterinary vaccines used in meat, eggs, and dairy destined for your supermarket from large livestock operations will always have been injected with mercury-preserved vaccines.

Under the treaty, any efforts at expanding or maintaining aid programs where children are exposed to mercury vapor that reaches health threatening levels from gold-mining, and where mercury levels in local fish threaten children with mercury poisoning even before they are born, WHO has permission to continue injecting these children with mercury-preserved vaccines because it comes from subsidized vaccine programs from entities who say they are “helping” including GAVI, PATH and the Gates Foundation.

In confined animal feeding operations where disease and health issues threaten production and operators are forced to keep costs down, owners will likely choose the cheaper mercury-preserved vaccines to prevent their herds and flocks from disease.

In a promotion program designed by a propaganda master, WHO and others have worked to place editorials in news and research outlets worldwide—including an editorial from an anthropologist (not a toxicologist or chemist) in New Scientist magazine (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21728990.200-poison-pill-not-all-mercury-is-toxic.html) calling mercury exposure from vaccines “benign.”

The world is getting more polluted with mercury and seems to be going mad as a hatter.

Everyone needs to help stop the madness by calling for an end to more mercury.

PLEASE add your name to pressure those who joined this campaign to inject children with neurotoxins starting with the AAP.




Final Day:
It has been a long week of negotiations. But at the end, or should I say the beginning of this new day, the creation of a global instrument to address purposeful and incidental mercury production, uses, and releases signals great opportunity. Once fully implemented, it could go a long way in addressing the mercury implicated in autism and other childhood neurological impacts, as well as potential late-life diseases for people everywhere.
The world is coming together to address common problems that can only be resolved through collaborative solutions.

SafeMinds observes in the final outcome that lessons from the past have helped shape the future. As this instrument signals a new era of opportunities coming from some of those lessons, we look forward to working together in the spirit of achieving the common goal of a better environment and a less toxic future for the children of the world. In our role as an observer in the negotiations, and now as a partner in addressing the solutions once the instrument goes into force, we look forward to working with all parties to make this instrument a success. SafeMinds thanks everyone involved over the past five years for their hard work and commitment to drafting the Minamata Convention.