Emissions and releases of mercury can have devastating effects on the environment and human health. Like other heavy metals, mercury persists in the environment forever. It can be transported over distances far removed from its original emission source. It gets deposited in the air, water, sediments, soil and biota in various forms, contaminating the food we eat, the water we drink and the air that we breathe. The global community is taking action through The Minamata Convention on Mercury. Read more+
Mercury is a naturally occurring metal, usually extracted out of an ore (cinnabar). It is the only metal that exists as a liquid at room temperature and easily evaporates into the air. Because of its unique characteristics, mercury is widely used in many instruments such as thermometers, barometer, fluorescent lights, electric switches, extracting gold and amalgams for filling teeth.
Mercury is also a neurotoxin. Exposure to elemental mercury and methyl mercury, mercury in food, and mercury vapors may pose significant health issues. These range from kidney, heart and respiratory problems to tremors and headaches to weakened vision, hearing and memory.
Every year, industrial processes like coal burning and cement manufacture release some 2,000 tonnes of mercury into the atmosphere. But most mercury emissions into air come from artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM).
What We Do
The GEF officially recognized the need for action on mercury in 1995. In 2013, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee designated the GEF as an entity comprising the financial mechanism of The Minamata Convention on Mercury. To date, 128 countries and the European Union have signed the convention, including 50 developing countries and CEITs. It is expected to come into force during GEF-6 (2014-2018) after 50 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification, accession or acceptance.
In GEF-5, we helped developing countries undertake mercury initial assessment (MIA) to promote ratification and the early implementation of the convention. In GEF-6, we continue these efforts, working with governments, the private sector and civil society to pursue action on different fronts. This includes support for national assessments of mercury issues and any plans to address priorities. Read more+
Since 2010, we have helped countries to:
- assess use and production of mercury, and products with mercury, within the country
- determine sources of mercury emissions and releases, and assess contaminated sites
- determine the extent of mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) and implement mercury-free technologies and techniques
- identify what’s needed for a national mercury program
- identify what’s needed to implement the convention at the national level.
We also fund actions to reduce the use of mercury in products and processes; to reduce emissions and releases of mercury from industrial processes; to move toward the sound management of mercury; and to address mercury use in ASGM.
The GEF has invested since GEF-5 to date $76 million toward 99 projects in over 100 countries that tackle the challenge of mercury. Our funding has helped countries address priority issues of the convention and facilitate early implementation of the convention. These include mercury inventories, reducing emissions from artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and reducing emissions into the atmosphere from industrial sources including secondary metals smelting and vinyl chloride monomer production and into the health care waste stream. Read more+
The GEF in Action: Reducing Exposure to Mercury in Latin America
Many artisanal and small-scale gold miners (ASGM) risk exposure to mercury because of lack of training and knowledge about this dangerous chemical. Through a regional project in Peru and Ecuador, the GEF has invested about $1 million to reduce mercury use and exposure among ASGM miners. The investment, which leveraged another $2.4 million, will introduce cleaner and more efficient gold-processing techniques, as well as provide relevant health information to mining communities. Ultimately, it will reduce the impact of mercury on both human health and the environment.