An international agreement called the Minamata Mercury Convention was adopted in Japan in 2013, and the convention came into force on August 16, 2017. The name of the agreement is not accidental – it was named after the city of Minamata, in memory of the tragedy that occurred in 1956. It was there that the world’s largest mercury poisoning happened. In addition, the Minamata name bears the “liquid metal” poisoning syndrome, the main symptoms of which are motor impairment, visual impairment, hearing loss, speech difficulties, and even paralysis that can lead to death..
The obligations under the convention listed in the agreement are designed to ensure the participation of many countries in protecting human health from harmful metal.
The most important convention on mercury was adopted as a result of a hard lesson taught to people who were careless about the problem of environmental pollution. It all started with the construction in 1908 in the Japanese city of Minamata of a large chemical plant that produced plastics and various plasticizers. For a long time, waste from this hazardous industry was dumped directly into the bay. Already 10 years later, one could observe the consequences of such irresponsibility in relation to nature – fish stocks in the sea have sharply decreased, which led to dissatisfaction with local fishermen. For the damages caused, people began to pay monetary compensation, while not stopping polluting the sea with toxic waste.
Soon a tragedy occurred, which became the reason for the signing of such an important international agreement as the Minamata Convention. In 1956, doctors first encountered the symptoms of a strange disease. Their patient turned out to be a little girl – she could hardly move and speak, her speech was sluggish, and seizures periodically occurred. A couple of days later, her sister was brought to the hospital, with the same symptoms. It soon turned out that there were many similar cases in the city. The presence of an epidemic was recognized, and specialists began to study it. It turned out that not only people, but also animals are susceptible to diseases. Approximately 40% of Minamata residents who sought medical help in 1956 died from this syndrome.
The Minamata Convention owes its origin to people who lived in fishing villages on the coast of Japan’s Minamata Bay and fell ill with a mysterious illness. The main diet of these people consisted of fish caught in the same bay. It turned out that all seafood in the area is contaminated with heavy metals. The investigation quickly identified the culprit of the environmental disaster – it turned out to be a plastics plant owned by the Chisso company. It was the wastewater of the enterprise, containing a large amount of mercury, that poisoned everything around and caused a high death rate of local residents.
Despite the fact that already in 1956 the cause of the tragedy was established, the Minamata Convention was not adopted soon. The Chisso plant produced acetaldehyde for another 12 years, the waste of which polluted the environment. It was possible to stop production only in 1968. The entire responsibility for the insufficient response to such a glaring problem lies with the Japanese government, which was afraid to slow down the growth of the country’s economy and turned a blind eye to what was happening. Thus, the Minamata Convention was not adopted soon.
This international agreement is aimed at protecting the environment, as well as protecting human health from such a serious threat as anthropogenic emissions of mercury and its compounds. The convention on mercury itself includes a list of measures necessary for this, including:
Over time, 52 countries have assumed obligations under the convention by ratifying the treaty (a total of 128 states have signed the convention). The Minamata Convention on Mercury Russia is relevant for our state, we signed it on September 24, 2014.
Russia begins to fulfill its obligations as early as 2020. And they will stop using mercury in production as much as possible. And the well-known mercury thermometer will soon disappear. Because even a broken thermometer carries a real threat.