International Actions for Reducing Mercury Emissions and Use
Mercury is a potent neurotoxicant that negatively impacts human health and the environment around the world. Mercury pollution is transported globally in the atmosphere, so mercury emitted far away affects people and ecosystems in the United States.
The U.S. engages its international partners, multilaterally and bilaterally, to address key mercury issues such as:
- Data collection and inventory development,
- Source characterization, and
- Best practices for emissions and use reduction.
On Wednesday, November 6, 2013 the United States signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a new multilateral environmental agreement that addresses specific human activities which are contributing to widespread mercury pollution.
Implementation of this agreement will help reduce global mercury pollution over the coming decades. In addition to signing, the United States deposited its Instrument of Acceptance to become a party to the Convention. EPA worked closely with the State Department and other federal agencies in the negotiation of this agreement.
Looking for information about the Mercury Export Ban?
By federal law, it is now illegal to export elemental mercury from the United States. For more information, see Questions and Answers about the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008.
Learn about EPA's International Work on Mercury:
- Minamata Convention on Mercury
- UNEP Global Mercury Partnership
- Reducing Mercury Pollution from Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining
- Regional Activities on Mercury
- Learn more about the global context of mercury emissions.
The United States is participating in the negotiation of a global legally-binding environmental agreement for the control of mercury pollution. The negotiations are anticipated to lead to the development of measures to reduce risks from the toxic effects of mercury to United States citizens and to populations worldwide.
As called for by United Nations Environment Program Governing Council Decision 23/9 IV of February 2005, a Global Mercury Partnership was established to achieve reductions in use and emissions of mercury globally. The United States was a catalyst in the formation of the Partnership, and continues to participate actively. The Partnership is divided into seven areas with the following leads or co-leads:
- Mercury Emissions from Coal – International Energy Agency Clean Coal Center
- Mercury Air Transport and Fate Research – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) Institute for Atmospheric Pollution, Italy
- Mercury Waste Management – Government of Japan
- Mercury Cell Chlor Alkali Production – Government of the United States (Environmental Protection Agency)
- Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining – Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
- Mercury Supply and Storage – Government of Spain, Government of Uruguay
- Mercury in Products – Government of the United States (Environmental Protection Agency)
- EPA’s involvement and contribution to the Global Mercury Partnership.
- Official UNEP Partnership Page
The U.S. has strengthened capacity building and technical cooperation programs implemented in the context of the Arctic Contaminants Action Plan (ACAP) and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP). ACAP and AMAP are bodies of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum whose members include Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, the United States, Sweden and Finland. EPA co-chairs the Mercury Project Steering Group under ACAP. EPA also:
- Provided support for the development of Russia's first comprehensive mercury emission inventory (now updated and captured in UNEP’s 2008 Global Atmospheric Mercury Assessment)
- Supported the first regional (eight-country) Arctic emission inventory (also captured in UNEP’s 2008 Global Atmospheric Mercury Assessment); and
- Supports emissions reduction demonstration projects in close cooperation with the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership and other organizations.
- The U.S. Mercury Emission Inventory for the Arctic Council Action Plan (PDF) (10 pp, 42 KB, About PDF)
- EPA’s international work in the Arctic
- Arctic Council home page
The U.S. has developed bilateral mercury cooperation programs to foster assessment and sector-specific improvements in a number of countries including China and India.
For example, the U.S. has developed international cooperation programs for monitoring specific facilities and air transport pathways, including modeling and analytical work.
In June 1998, under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Executive Body of the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution Protocol on Heavy Metals adopted the Protocol on Heavy Metals. This legally-binding agreement went into effect in December 2003. The United States is a party to this agreement. The Protocol targets three heavy metals – cadmium, lead and mercury. The Protocol:
- Aims to cut emissions from industrial sources (iron and steel industry, non-ferrous metal industry), combustion processes (power generation, road transport), and waste incineration.
- Includes strict limit values and deadlines for emissions reductions for new and existing stationary sources and suggests Best Available Techniques (BAT) for these sources.
- Contains measures to reduce emissions of heavy metals emissions from products, such as leaded gasoline and mercury in batteries, through the mandatory phase-out of leaded gasoline and mandatory mercury concentration limits for certain types of batteries.
In addition, the Task Force on Hemispheric Transport of Air Pollution (HTAP) was established under the Convention in 2004 to develop a fuller understanding of intercontinental transport of air pollution in the Northern Hemisphere, including mercury. The Task Force, co-chaired by the U.S. and the European Union, developed a 2010 assessment report (HTAP 2010), which includes a technical assessment of the state-of-science on intercontinental transport of mercury (Part B).
Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy
The 1997 Canada-United States Strategy for the Virtual Elimination of Persistent Toxic Substances in the Great Lakes Basin, known as the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, created a framework for addressing mercury pollution in the Great Lakes Basin by establishing a goal of "virtual elimination" of anthropogenic mercury inputs to the Great Lakes, as well as by establishing goals of reducing U.S. mercury emissions and use by 50% and reducing Canadian mercury releases by 90%.
The Strategy established a workgroup of U.S. and Canadian federal, state and local government officials, industry, and environmental groups, who shared information about cost-effective mercury reduction approaches. The Strategy was successful in gaining commitments for voluntary mercury reduction from the chlor-alkali industry, which committed to reduce its mercury use by 50% (actually achieving more than 95%); from the American Hospital Association for the virtual elimination of mercury from hospital waste, and from northwest Indiana steel mills; who inventoried their mercury-containing equipment and reduced it by more than 80%. The workgroup has ceased its activity, having achieved its interim reduction goals.
North American Regional Action Plan on Mercury
Under the auspices of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) , the U.S., Canada, and Mexico developed a North American Regional Action Plan (NARAP) on Mercury (finalized in 2000). The goal of this ten-year Plan was to reduce anthropogenic mercury releases within North America through tri-national and national initiatives in the three countries.
The Mercury NARAP contains provisions on risk management approaches to address mercury in air emissions, industrial processes and operations, products and waste. It also describes activities related to research, monitoring, modeling, inventories and communication. A report is now being written to summarize mercury activities and accomplishments of the U.S., Canada and Mexico between 2000 and 2010 that are related to the goals of the Mercury NARAP.
New England Regional Mercury Action Plan
In 1998, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers adopted a Regional Mercury Action Plan (PDF) (19 pp, 48 K, About PDF Files) for the Northeast U.S. and Eastern Canada. This plan established a long term regional goal of virtually eliminating the discharge of mercury from human sources into the environment. It also established goals of 50% reduction of mercury emissions by 2003 (which has been met) and 75% reduction by 2010. A preliminary assessment completed in 2010 indicated that the binational region has probably achieved this 75 percent reduction goal for mercury air emissions.
The mercury program identified more than 40 actions to address mercury in the environment: reduction of mercury emissions; source reduction and safe waste management; outreach and education; and research, analysis and strategic monitoring. Under this plan, many jurisdictions are implementing mercury product phase-outs, reporting, labeling and recycling requirements; stringent limits on emissions from major point sources; requirements that dental offices install mercury pollution controls; and environmental monitoring efforts. Notably, the State of Massachusetts has documented significant declines in mercury levels in freshwater fish concurrent with a 91% reduction in emissions from in-state sources.
For additional information on EPA's work with mercury, contact:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2670R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460