About the Convention
Australia ratified the Minamata Convention on 7 December 2021.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an international treaty that seeks to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic (caused by humans) emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.
The Convention covers all aspects of the life cycle of mercury, controlling and reducing mercury across a range of products, processes and industries. This includes controls on:
- mercury mining
- the manufacture and trade of mercury and products containing mercury
- disposal of mercury waste
- emissions of mercury from industrial facilities.
Countries that have ratified the Convention are bound by international law to put these controls in place.
Every four years, starting in 2021, national reports on the measures taken by countries to implement the Minamata Convention are required. They include information on the effectiveness of these measures.
Risk of mercury
Mercury is a chemical of global concern because:
- it can cause significant harm to people and the environment
- it is persistent in the environment once released
- it can travel large distances in our oceans and the atmosphere, and can affect human health and the environment, even in remote locations
- it can become concentrated in ecosystems and up the food chain.
Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that can have dangerous effects on people, ecosystems, and wildlife. It can harm the immune system, brain, heart, kidneys, and lungs of people and animals. The effects of mercury exposure can occur at very low levels.
The Minamata Convention is named after "Minamata disease", which occurred in Japan during the mid-20th century. Mercury-tainted industrial wastewater released into Minamata Bay poisoned thousands of people, with crippling, irreversible effects.
How people and the environment are exposed
Due to its unique properties, mercury has been widely used in products such as:
- measuring devices (barometers, hygrometers, manometers, thermometers, sphygmomanometers)
- switches and relays
- some fluorescent light bulbs and High Pressure Mercury Vapour lamps
- pesticides and biocides
- dental amalgam.
The mercury contained in these products can be released into the environment throughout their life cycle, including:
- during production
- breakage during use
- product disposal.
Mercury has also been used in industrial processes that produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide (mercury chlor-alkali plants) or vinyl chloride monomer for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) production, and polyurethane elastomers.
Mercury may also be a by-product of raw material refining or production processes, such as oil and gas refining and non-ferrous metal production.
Mercury emissions and releases can be caused by human activities (i.e. they may be anthropogenic). They can also come from natural sources like volcanic eruptions. However, human activities have increased total atmospheric mercury concentrations by about 450% above natural levels (UN Environment 2019).
Administering the Convention
Different Australian government agencies are responsible for Australia’s controls over the import, manufacture, use, disposal and export of mercury, and for coordinating Australia’s involvement in the Convention.
The Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) leads Australia’s involvement in the Minamata Convention. The Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme (AICIS), the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Australian Border Force support DAWE in controlling the manufacture, import and export of mercury and mercury-containing products.
State and territory governments also have an important role in managing emissions, releases and disposal of mercury and mercury compounds.
Importing, using or exporting mercury and mercury-containing products
If you are wanting to import, export or manufacture mercury or mercury-containing products in Australia, contact the relevant authority:
- Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority
- Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme
- Therapeutic Goods Administration
- All other mercury-containing products.
- Minamata Convention on Mercury
- Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) - Report 197 - 2021
- Final Regulation Impact Statement and Cost-Benefit Analysis- 2020
- Draft Cost-Benefit Analysis - 2018
- Consultation Paper - 2014
- UNEP Minamata Convention on Mercury
Please direct any enquiries regarding mercury or the Minamata Convention to Minamata@awe.gov.au