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Global agreement targets mercury

Near elimination seen in 3 decades

GENEVA — A new global treaty could eliminate within three decades the commercial use of mercury in everything from batteries, paints, and skin-lightening creams to utility plants and small-scale gold mining, the head of the UN’s environment agency said Thursday.

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UN Environment Program, describes the Minamata Convention on Mercury as a game-changer for a naturally occurring element that, once released into the environment through an industrial process, tends to accumulate in fish and work up the food chain.

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The agreement still needs ratification by dozens of countries, and includes a concession to nations with small-scale gold mining — one of the biggest sources of pollution.

The first new global convention on environment and health for nearly a decade was formally adopted as international law to little notice worldwide at a gathering in Japan last week of nearly 140 government delegations, UN officials said. More than 90 nations plus the European Union signed on.

India and Russia did not sign, but China did and the United States intended to but could not last week because of its government shutdown.

Steiner said the treaty, which requires ratification by at least 50 of the nations that sign on before becoming legally binding for those countries, could accomplish its aim of curbing mercury emissions between 2025 to 2050.

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