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2013年10月12日 (土)

水俣条約採択 「脱水銀」へ日本の教訓生かせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 12, 2013
U.N. Minamata convention must lead to world free of mercury poisoning
水俣条約採択 「脱水銀」へ日本の教訓生かせ(10月11日付・読売社説)

By learning important and serious lessons from Minamata disease, considered a historic example of a tragedy caused by environmental pollution, efforts must be made to effectively stem mercury contamination from spreading worldwide.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury of the United Nations was adopted Thursday in an international council in Kumamoto, with delegates from about 140 countries and territories participating. The name Minamata was used for the landmark treaty at the initiative of the Japanese government.

The U.N. Environment Program, which sponsored the conference, aims to have the pact take effect from 2016. The treaty bans in principle the manufacturing, export and import of products containing mercury, starting from 2020.

When a coal-fired thermal power plant is newly built that emits mercury in the process of combustion for power generation, the plant operator will be obliged under the treaty to introduce the best possible technology available to curb mercury emissions into the environment. The pact also includes such regulations as banning development of new mercury mines.

This is definitely a major step forward for the realization of a “world free of mercury.”

Mercury has been used broadly in the production of goods familiar in our daily lives, such as batteries, thermometers and fluorescent lamps.

Japanese manufacturers have addressed the task of regulating the use of mercury ahead of many other countries, but there has been little progress on curbing the use of mercury in emerging and developing countries.

When discharged into the atmosphere, sea and rivers, mercury accumulates in living creatures’ bodies. Those who eat large quantities of mercury-contaminated fish and shellfish are in danger of developing poisoning symptoms like those of Minamata disease.

China the largest emitter

The quantity of mercury being emitted into the atmosphere due to industrial activities and other causes is estimated at about 2,000 tons a year worldwide.

It is a matter of urgency to cut back on mercury emissions to prevent health hazards that are a menace across national borders.

Topping the list of mercury emissions by industry are small-scale gold mines, many of which are in developing countries. They consume mercury in the process of extracting gold from ores.

Mercury is indispensable for people who earn their living through gold-mining operations. In light of this, the international treaty falls short of prohibiting the use of mercury for mining purposes, calling instead for efforts to reduce its use.

How can support be given to developing nations that can hardly afford to fund projects for environmental conservation? This problem must be addressed if the Minamata convention is to be made truly effective and viable.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed the Japanese government’s intention to earmark a total of $2 billion (about ¥200 billion) in aid to developing nations’ environmental measures projects in three years from 2014.

It is of great significance that Japan, aiming to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy of the widespread damage from Minamata disease that resulted from delays in responding to the problem, is now contributing to preventing mercury contamination around the world.

Countermeasures against thermal power generation using coal containing mercury are also a key issue. In particular, China, which is the world’s largest discharger of mercury, must proactively tackle the challenge of phasing out mercury emissions.

An outbreak of Minamata disease has been confirmed in watershed regions of some river systems in China. China appears poised to ratify the convention, seemingly with the aim of obtaining technological support from industrially advanced countries to reduce mercury emissions.

In the wake of the treaty’s adoption, Japan must take measures to respond to the fact that mercury has been recycled domestically from used products, mainly those produced abroad, for export to other Asian countries and elsewhere.

When the pact takes effect, however, it will be required to store the mercury domestically.

Taking this into account, building a system to safely manage spent mercury is certain to become a pressing task.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 11, 2013)
(2013年10月11日01時38分  読売新聞)


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