Minamata disease and mercury

Minamata Convention on Mercury

Overview of the Convention

An international treaty that sets out regulations covering the entire lifecycle of mercury, from production to trade, product manufacture, emissions, storage and disposal of mercury.
It is stated in Article 1 that the objective of the Convention is to "protect the human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds."
Its name is also abbreviated as the "Mercury Convention" or "Minamata Convention."

Entry into force of the Convention

Adoption of the Convention

It was agreed unanimously at the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2013 that the Convention be adopted, following which the Diplomatic Conference on the Minamata Convention on Mercury was held in October of the same year in Kumamoto and in Minamata, both in Kumamoto Prefecture, to have the Convention adopted and signed.

Entry into force of the Convention

With the Convention having been ratified by 50 nations, the condition precedent for it to take effect, in June 2017, the Convention took effect as of August 16, 2016.

Need for the Convention

Occurrence of mercury

While mercury occurs naturally from volcanoes, ocean evaporation and other natural phenomena, it can also occur as a result of human activities, such as coal combustion, small-scale gold mining and emissions from products containing mercury.

Danger of mercury

Once emitted, mercury causes adverse effects on nerves of humans and wildlife as a result of circulating around the Earth and accumulating in the bodies of living creatures. Caution must be needed, especially in terms of protecting fetuses, babies and children.

Use of mercury

While the use of mercury is dwindling in developed countries, it is still widely used mostly in developing countries for small-scale gold mining, etc.

Convention-led control is required to prevent harm

Mercury must be managed globally through the medium of the Minamata Convention, lest the kind of health calamity and environmental destruction that Japan went through as a result of mercury pollution should be repeated ever again in this world.

Main content of the Convention

Ban on primary mercury mining

Primary mercury mining shall no longer be allowed.

Restrictions on mercury trade

The unrestricted import or export of mercury shall no longer be allowed.

Ban on the manufacture, import and export of products containing mercury

The manufacture, import and export of batteries, lamps, cosmetics and other products made with more than a certain quantity of mercury concentration were no longer permitted by 2020.

Ban on the use of mercury in manufacturing processes

After a specific period of time, the use of mercury in manufacturing processes shall no longer be allowed in the chlor-alkali industry and acetaldehyde manufacturing facilities.

Reduction of the use of mercury in gold mining

A signatory country that determines that artisanal and small-scale gold mining in its territory is not insignificant must develop an action plan designed to reduce the use and emissions of mercury.

Reduction of releases and emissions to the environment

A signatory country shall take measures so that emissions be reduced in industrial sectors with large emissions of mercury to the atmosphere. Other steps to be taken include identifying relevant point sources of mercury release to water to which measures to reduce releases are applicable.

Connection of Minamata to the Convention

Why the placename "Minamata" is used

The appellation of the "Minamata Convention" implies resolute wishes that the kind of health calamity and environmental destruction that Minamata disease relates to should not be repeated, and the global community's willingness to share the commitment to taking action that the people responsible have in countries faced with similar challenges.
Another reason for the naming of the Minamata Convention was to pass on to the global community the lessons and experiences learned from Minamata disease, and to bring to notice how today's Minamata looks like.

Connection of the National Institute for Minamata Disease to the Convention

Technology development related to mercury, and sharing and popularization

  • ・Development and supply of uncomplicated mercury measuring techniques
  • ・Support for developing countries by providing onsite technical assistance, hosting trainees, etc.
  • ・Organization of international forums on mercury
  • ・Participation in the network for monitoring mercury in the atmosphere, which is an ongoing initiative in the Asia-Pacific region