United States Secures International Consensus to Develop Agreement on Mercury: 140 Countries Agree to Pursue Binding Agreement to Contain Release of Toxic Metal

Fact Sheet
Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Washington, DC
February 20, 2009

The United States secured international consensus to develop a new, legally-binding agreement on mercury. This important agreement was reached under U.S. leadership at the conclusion of the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) biennial Governing Council session and Global Ministerial Environmental Forum in Nairobi on February 20, 2009. It marks a major step forward in protecting human health and the environment from mercury, a developmental neurotoxin.

"Mercury poses a serious threat to public health in communities around the world," said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "Today, the world's environmental leaders agreed that we must take immediate action to reduce mercury emissions. The United States will play a leading role in working with other nations to craft a global, legally binding agreement that will prevent the spread of mercury into the environment and improve the health of workers, pregnant women, and children throughout the world."

Daniel A. Reifsnyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and head of the U.S. Delegation to the Nairobi talks described the successful outcome, "Many have called for a legally binding agreement on mercury, and today the United States joins that call." Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, and the State Department played a role in securing this important agreement.

Discussions to develop a comprehensive mercury agreement will begin in late 2009 and aim to conclude in 2013 with provisions to reduce mercury from sources such as products and industrial processes, coal fired power plants, and artisanal mining through a combination of legally binding and voluntary commitments. In the meantime, efforts to reduce mercury will continue through the UNEP Global Mercury Program and Partnership which were re-endorsed at the Governing Council meeting. The United States has been a strong supporter of both of these developments and has contributed over $5 million to the Partnership and is pleased with the significant work done by UNEP and the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership.

The United States has made great strides in addressing mercury contamination domestically, but more than half of all mercury deposition within the United States comes from sources outside our borders. Safe clean water for the health of citizens of the United States, and any other country, is threatened without serious cooperation internationally to reduce global mercury emissions.