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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Press Relations Office > Press Releases (Other) > 2003 > February
Media Note
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 13, 2003


International Mercury Pollution Proposal Adopted at United Nations Environment Program

On February 7, 2003 the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) adopted a decision to address mercury pollution at the international level. This decision closely follows a proposal put forward by the United States in advance of the meeting.

The Governing Council decision authorizes UNEP to begin technical assistance and capacity building activities to lessen the human health and environmental impacts of mercury. In particular, focus would be placed on assistance to both developing countries and countries with economies in transition, which generally lack regulations controlling mercury pollution. These activities would include (1) developing strategies for identifying at-risk populations, (2) enhancing outreach and risk communication activities to reach these populations, (3) improving the understanding of the sources of mercury contamination, (4) developing strategies to mitigate mercury pollution, and (5) increasing awareness of alternatives to mercury use in products and processes.

The United States is pleased with this outcome. This decision will facilitate the efforts of the many countries that have expressed concern over mercury contamination to take immediate action to deal with this issue. We look forward to continuing to provide strong support to UNEP over the next several years to pursue these activities.

Mercury is a serious human health and environmental concern because it is a potent neurotoxin that can travel long distances from its source of release. The majority of global mercury emissions originate from developing countries. However, approximately one-third of the atmospheric deposits of mercury occurring in the United States are linked to releases from sources outside the country. For the general U.S. population, mercury exposure occurs primarily through eating contaminated fish. Pregnant women and people who regularly and frequently eat certain fish are the most likely to be at risk from mercury exposure.

Additional information on mercury issues can be found on the internet at http://www.epa.gov/mercury/index.html,www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts46.html
or http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~acrobat/hgadv1.pdf.

Released on February 13, 2003

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