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UN achieves treaty to limit mercury

More than 140 nations have adopted the first treaty to reduce mercury emissions. The agreement will set limits on emissions of the highly toxic metal that is widely used in chemical production and small-scale mining.

Reached after three years of negotiations and a long last week of talks, the Minamata Convention on Mercury - named after the Japanese city where people were poisoned in the mid-20th century from industrial discharges - could take up to five years to come into force, according to the UN Environmental Program (UNEP). Countries will be asked to sign the treaty in October in Minamata.

"A treaty to start to begin to rid the world of a notorious health-hazardous metal was agreed in the morning of January 19," UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall said.

The treaty will aim to reduce global emission levels of the toxic heavy metal also known as quicksilver, which poses risks to human health and the environment.

Manufacturers use mercury in products such as electrical switches, thermometers, light bulbs, dental fillings and even facial creams, and large amounts of the heavy metal are released from small-scale gold mining, coal-burning power plants, metal smelters and cement production.

Serious mercury poisoning affects the immune system and can lead to psychological disorders, loss of teeth and problems with the digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory tracts. Mercury also affects development of the brain and nervous system and poses great risk to fetuses and infants.

mkg/dr (AFP, Reuters, AP)