Minamata Convention on Mercury
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a multilateral environmental agreement which addresses specific human activities that are contributing to widespread mercury pollution. Implementation of this agreement will help reduce global mercury pollution over the coming decades.
Australia ratified the Convention on 7 December 2021, joining the global fight against mercury pollution. The treaty has been in force for Australia and South Australia since 7 March 2022.
South Australian legislation
South Australia is well positioned to ratify with no changes to policy or legislation, and has limited existing activities which emit mercury or mercury compounds. Existing legislation and environment protection policies, under the Environment Protection Act 1993 already restrict the human health exposure from industry.
The EPA is engaging directly with key industries to address the requirements of the convention on a site-by-site basis.
Artisanal gold mining and primary mercury mining are prohibited under the convention.
The Convention calls for reductions of emissions from products, processes and industries using, emitting or releasing mercury.
Major highlights are:
- banning new mercury mines
- phasing out mercury use in a number of products and processes
- controlling measures on emissions into air and on releases to land and water from point sources
- regulating the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale goldminers.
The Convention also:
- deals with interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, sites contaminated by mercury as well as human health issues
- addresses the life cycle of mercury from its entry into the economy (via mining or international trade) to its uses in products, its releases and emissions from industrial processes, and waste management and storage.
What is mercury
Mercury is a toxic pollutant that is released into the environment mainly through human activities such as industrial processes, including mining. It accumulates in the environment and in food chains, and circulates globally through the oceans and the atmosphere, causing significant harm to human health and the environment, sometimes at great distances from its point of origin. The World Health Organization lists mercury as one of the top 10 chemicals of major public health concern. Acute or chronic exposure to mercury and mercury compounds can be fatal.
Impact on Industry
The Convention affects only a small number of existing industries in South Australia. These industries are smelting and roasting processes used in the production of non-ferrous metals, waste incineration facilities, cement clinker production facilities, coal-fired power plants and coal-fired industrial boilers. The Convention will also affect proposals for new developments of specific industries involving mercury in its processes.
Under the Minamata Convention, prohibited activities include:
- chlor-alkali production
- acetaldehyde production in which mercury or mercury compounds are used as a catalyst,
- vinyl chloride monomer production
- sodium or potassium methylate or ethylate
- production of polyurethane using mercury containing catalysts.
Impacts on councils
Councils will be expected to understand the prohibited and restricted activities in referrals for new developments
New applications for these activities are heavily restricted and must demonstrate best available technology economically available (BATEA).
New proposals for smelting and roasting processes used in the production of non-ferrous metals, waste incineration facilities, and cement clinker production facilities are also impacted.
Please contact the EPA on tel: 8204 2004 or email if you have questions about how your facility needs to comply with the Minamata Convention.
SafeWorkSA has regulatory requirements for the safe handling, storage and transport of mercury or mercury compounds.
Department for Energy and Mining (DEM) are leading on the impacts on mining.
Information and resources about the Minamata Convention on Mercury are available at the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.