The European Union has triggered the entry into force of the global treaty aimed at reducing exposure to mercury.
It has, along with seven of its Member States – Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania and Sweden – ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
Signed by 128 countries in total, it will now come into force on 16th August – 90 days since the ratification.
Mercury is listed by the UN as one of the top 10 chemicals endangering human health and the environment.
It can be released naturally through the weathering of mercury-containing rocks, forest fires and volcanic eruptions but significant emissions also come from human processes, particularly coal burning and small-scale gold mining.
Other manmade sources of mercury pollution include the production of chlorine and some plastics, waste incineration and use of mercury in laboratories, preservatives, paints and jewellery.
According to the Commission, around 40% to 80% of mercury deposited in Europe comes from emissions in other parts of the world.
Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs said: “The new global treaty on mercury will help protect millions of people all over the world from exposure to this toxic heavy metal. With ratification the EU has delivered the decisive bit and triggered its entry into force. This is a great success of EU green diplomacy. It highlights Europe’s commitment to strong and concerted international action.”