Cutting highly toxic mercury emissions must be the priority of the upcoming revision of European clean air policy.  The EU’s signed up to the Minamata Convention on mercury, a legally-binding treaty to cut mercury emissions, as a first step taken in the right direction, but urgent domestic action is required to protect its citizens, animals and ecosystems.

The health risks posed by mercury and its organic compound methylmercury (MeHg) are significant, especially for women and children. Methylmercury can seriously affect the nervous, immune, cardiovascular and reproductive systems. It can harm brain development and can pass through both the placental and blood-brain barriers. Moreover, its compounds are potential carcinogens for humans, as shown by the World Health Organisation.

Facts & figures:

  • Over 1.8 million European children are born every year with high MeHg exposures;
  • 50% of the mercury emissions in the EU come from coal combustion plants;
  • Damages mount to €900,000/tonne of mercury released into the air;
  • Up to €9 billion/year can be saved through exposure prevention;
  • 54% of ecosystems are excessively exposed to mercury.

The largest source of mercury emissions in the EU, are coal combustion plants. However, the EU legislation does not directly regulate coal-burning related mercury emissions and focuses solely on those from waste incineration and co-incineration.

We cannot wait for these dangerous emissions to be reduced simply through energy savings and the gradual replacement of coal with renewable sources and this is why we propose the following policy solutions:

  • Putting a cap on overall amounts of mercury through the NEC Directive;
  • Limiting mercury emissions for large combustion plants (LCPs) through mandatory state of the art abatement techniques;
  • Setting mercury emission limits for medium combustion plants (MCPs).

You can find out more about the mercury’s impact from a briefing prepared by the EEB, HEAL, WWF, Greenpeace, ClientEarth, AirClim and Change Partnership here.