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Feb 092009

From Green Right Now reports

A group of pro-environment organizations is urging the U.S. to support a legally binding mercury treaty at a United Nations meeting next week in Nairobi, Kenya.

The coalition of green activists was scheduled to meet with U.S. state department officials today, at which they planned to present a letter signed by 50 U.S.-based groups and another 40 abroad, urging President Obama to support a mercury treaty.

Countries around the globe have been discussing options to control mercury pollution since 2001 and in 2003 agreed that enough was known to warrant immediate action to reduce global mercury pollution, according to the letter. Most countries now favor the negotiation of a legally binding international agreement as the most viable approach to deal with this problem, the activists say.

The primary concern of these groups are mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources of unintentional emissions of mercury. But the groups also oppose other uses of mercury that pollute the environment, citing the use of over 1,000 tons of mercury each year in small scale gold mining that can pollute both the local and global environment.

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that can make its way up the food chain into humans, and poses an increased exposure risk to developing fetuses and young children, as well as to adults who are exposed to it.

The Bush administration had opposed a formal treaty, preferring to promote voluntary guidelines to reduce risks from mercury.

“The upcoming UNEP Governing Council meeting will provide the Obama administration with its first opportunity on the world stage to demonstrate a real change in the U.S. approach to international environmental issues,” Michael Bender, a drafter of the letter, and co-coordinator for the Zero Mercury Working Group, said in a statement.

Zero Mercury is a coalition of 75 groups around the world promoting mercury reduction.

Among the U.S. groups signing the letter are Physicians for Social Responsibility, American Nurses Association, Environment Illinois, NYPIRG, Clean Water Action, Greenpeace and Health Care Without Harm. International co-signers include World Wildlife Fund – Guianas, the International POPS Elimination Network, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, the Basel Action Network, Friends of the Earth Malaysia, Indonesia Toxics-Free Network, Toxics Link (India), Health & Environmental Network (EU) and Ban Toxics! (Philippines).