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New UN protocol set to restrict heavy metal emissions in Europe

New UN protocol set to restrict heavy metal emissions in Europe

A protocol restricting the emission of three harmful heavy metals - cadmium, lead and mercury - will come into force on Monday as part of a United Nations treaty to protect the quality of the air over Europe.

The Protocol on Heavy Metals, ratified by 18 countries and the European Union, will be the seventh to enter into effect under the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE).

“Heavy metals obviously are something that cause great concern for the global environment because they travel throughout oceans,” Werner Obermayer of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) told the UN News Service. “We have recorded cases where heavy metals are found in fish, which make up the bulk of protein intake for people in coastal areas and the Arctic region.” He noted that in Europe, fish is an important food source in the Nordic countries.

“It is a very good development to recognize the link between environmental conservation and health,” he added.

Adopted in June 1998 in Aarhus, Denmark, the Protocol requires parties to reduce their emissions of cadmium, lead and mercury - identified as being harmful to human health - to levels below that of 1990, or an alternate year between 1985 and 1995.

The parties to the Protocol are also required to phase out leaded petrol, reduce heavy metal emissions from such products as batteries, and cut emissions from industrial sources such as iron and steel industry.

The 19 Parties that have signed the Protocol are Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and the European Union.

Meanwhile, ECE members have agreed to consider whether to add new persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to a list of those banned or restricted under a separate protocol of the same Convention. That protocol came into force in October.

At a recent meeting in Geneva, the parties agreed to a work plan for next year to examine the effectiveness of the protocol on POPs, which are believed to cause birth defects and stunt intellectual and physical development.