From the Safeminds.org newsletter:
By Eric Uram, SafeMinds Executive Director
So what happened in Geneva at the negotiating session for finalizing language contained in UNEP's international mercury treaty? In particular, when it came to making real headway on addressing the sources of mercury associated with over-exposed kids? In brief: not much. Political will putting people first took a back seat to special interest influence about making profits pretty much across the board.
To give some background, the process for negotiations, a treaty is similar to the lawmaking process here in the USA, UNEP Treaty negotiations allow everyone access to the process.
Just as with federal and state legislatures, access to government officials outside of the negotiations is allowed, and written and face-to-face communications took place in many countries where interests had a presence.
Similar to elected legislators, only treaty delegates can add, amend or remove treaty language. Intergovernmental organizations (similar to federal or state agencies) including UNIDO, UNITAR, WHO and other UN affiliates and the UNEP Treaty Secretariats get greater access (and influence) with the delegates, but are still prohibited from participating in negotiations on any specific language.
The process considers all others, including non-government organizations (NGOs, such as SafeMinds) only as observers, allowing us to monitor the process, but allowing extremely limited opportunity to address the delegations.
The negotiations approval process uses consensus instead of a majority rules approach. Any change in language can only occur under consensus from all parties - so adding or removing language requires everyone present to allow it. This means one nation could veto any proposed addition or deletion of language even if everyone else wanted it.
SafeMinds goal in participating, in addition to helping motivate a strong treaty that would effectively address mercury pollution from human activities to reduce negative neurological outcomes, was to seek a call for eliminating purposeful uses resulting in excessive direct exposures. These included all mercury-containing pharmaceutical and personal care products (such as eye makeup and OTC eye, ear and nose sprays and drops), mercury in dental restorations (silver amalgam) and mercury-based vaccine preservatives.
Peer-reviewed published research demonstrating health problems from exposure to the levels of mercury present in these products are compelling enough that we felt decisions on continued uses should require the exercising of the precautionary principle. Lastly, SafeMinds felt any intentional mercury exposure during the pre/post natal window, especially when coupled with other toxic exposures, whether intended or not, has potential to change an individual's health trajectory over their entire lifetime and should therefore be avoided.
SafeMinds felt these items had readily available, cost-effective alternatives. Numerous documents submitted by SafeMinds during the treaty process spelled out our concerns and the opportunities. Much of this information remains available on the UNEP website.
In a huge setback to advocates calling to end its use and developing nations required to maintain using it, the final version of negotiated treaty language regarding Thiomersal or Thimerosal® use in vaccines (TCVs) contained a "permanent" exemption that can be challenged at any future session by the parties of the treaty - something done every 5 years.
Regarding dental amalgam, options for a phasedown are in place giving hope that TCV issues can receive the same treatment. Delegates currently left an open end-date for use, but having it listed requires regular review and the potential for elevation to phase-out and the eventual termination of amalgam use in all party nations. Once this policy trail is blazed, it should result in an easier effort to follow.
For personal care products, exemptions remain for anything falling in line with FDA guidelines. Eye makeup can still contain up to 65 parts per million (ppm) mercury and the use of Thimerosal in other OTC products, except topical disinfectants, failed to get any mention. The treaty also bans mercury as a biocide in any application except in thimerosal.
The rest of the treaty addressed the control of emissions, elimination of uses by small-scale gold-mining and major industrial processes as well as the cleanup of contaminated sites. Real world success here will depend on either national efforts to address them or the assistance developed economies can provide to nations with economies in development or transition. Good outcomes will require some actions by nations on their own. That said, many countries say they cannot meet all potential obligations without some assistance. As the treaty moves through conferences of parties, changes will occur to how implementation will proceed.
In short, the treaty is not a flying start, but the world now agrees it is time to move forward and find solutions to our rising global mercury dilemma.In the final outcome, SafeMinds as well as other groups focusing on the Thimerosal issue including CoMeD, United Methodist Church, and BioAutismo (and many others), were able to educate a whole new group of individuals, many in leadership positions, to increase the public voice speaking on health issues related to mercury exposure (including from vaccines) and enhance the need for vigilance while encouraging demand for research into the potential negative outcomes from vaccine-levels of mercury exposure. Many delegates and NGOs were unaware of the presence of mercury in vaccines until the INC negotiations. Many now have an appreciation of the need to find Thimerosal substitutes or the means to eliminate all preservatives, mercury or not, from vaccines.