Inuit circumpolar body wants movement on mercury contamination

Two health warnings issued to women of childbearing age within past year


Representatives from the Inuit Circumpolar Council attended a UN meeting in Punta del Este, Uruguay between June 27 – July 2 to work towards a global treaty aimed at reducing mercury contamination, but not much progress was made, a July 10 news release from ICC Canada said.

“Even though some progress was made during the negotiations, delegates were arguing around what the most crucial issues are and how they should be addressed overall, stalling the discussions on several fronts,” ICC said.

This past June 28, the Government of Nunavut issued a health advisory to women of childbearing age that advises them against eating ringed-seal liver, which is highly contaminated with mercury.

And in October 2011, the Nunavik Board of Health and Social Services issued a warning about eating beluga meat, which is also contaminated with mercury (see video embedded below.)

Parnuna Egede of ICC Greenland acted as an independent observer at the talks.

“This combination of contamination and climate change constitutes our Arctic double curse, and it is not of our doing. That is why we turn to the world community, to ask for your help to create a strong instrument on mercury, especially with regards to atmospheric emissions and releases,” she told the group during the plenary session.

Climate change also plays a part.

“Not only are we exposed to contamination from a cocktail of contaminants, mercury being one of them, mostly from sources outside the Arctic, we are also strongly affected by climate change, with temperatures increasing twice as fast as other parts of the world,” Egede said in the release.

Although mercury occurs naturally, more than 90 per cent of the mercury present in the Arctic originates from human sources.

Because of this, in its submission, Canada brought up the importance of controlling airborne mercury emissions and their effect on indigenous peoples.

Some countries agree that airborne mercury emissions are the most important because they are “truly a global problem and cannot be addressed solely through national actions.”

Other countries stated that mercury contamination in water and land is just as important and needs to be treated equally.

Right now, the largest mercury emissions come from coal-based energy consumption in large, rapidly growing economies, particularly Asia.

But these emissions do undergo long-range transport and are deposited in the Arctic.

This is why a global treaty is needed, ICC said.

According to ICC’s news release, a recent study using computer simulations found that Arctic rivers are likely a source of mercury in the Arctic Ocean that has been overlooked.

Thawing permafrost and boreal wildfires also contribute to the mobilization of mercury present in soil, the release said.

The treaty is supposed to be ready by October 2013,
and is being worked out throught the United Nations Environment Programme and Intergovernmental Negotiations Committee

Five negotiation committee meetings will take place, with the last one scheduled for January 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland.

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