A five-day international convention aimed to regulate the use and production of mercury (chemical symbol Hg) was launched in the city of Kumamoto on Monday. Named after the city that suffered the worst industrial poisoning in the country, the Minamata Convention on Mercury gathered delegates from 140 countries.
The liquid metal is commonly used in electric items as well as thermometers, although some countries have already banned the use of this kind of thermometer in hospitals and other health facilities. Unfortunately there are also cosmetic products that still contain mercury to this day. China and some developing countries also still use mercury in gold refining and thermal power generation, bringing risks to the health of miners. A treaty is expected to be signed by the represented countries to regulate the use of mercury. Once ratified by 50 countries, which according to organizers would take 3-4 years, it will be the world’s first legally-binding treaty on mercury. Enclosed in the treaty is the prohibition of developing mercury mines. As for those that contain quicksilver, another name for mercury, excavation will be prohibited 15 years following the effectivity of the treaty.
Mercury is known to have toxic effects on the health of a person exposed to it, especially to the nervous system. Minamata, a city in the southwestern part of Kumamoto Prefecture, experienced the worst case of mercury poisoning in Japan and it affected and killed around 2,000 people. Delegates to the convention will be visiting the city on Wednesday to pay tribute to the people who died of Minamata Disease, the mercury poisoning named after the city.
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