Mercury Project Puts Great UNEP Treaty at Risk

The World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry delegates at Minamata COP-4, on 23 March, 2022, Bali, Indonesia. Credit: Kiara Worth, IISD/ENB (Earth Negotiation Bulletin)
  • Opinion by Charlie Brown (lome, togo)
  • Inter Press Service

But emerging after hidden negotiations with the mercury lobby is a GEF project with UNEP endorsement which ignores, if not outright defies, the will of the Parties. As COP5 approaches, here is the test case on whether Minamata continues to move our small planet toward an end to anthropogenic mercury—or become mired in corporate capture.

For the past decade, the Parties repeatedly rejected the agenda of the dental mercury lobby—the dentists who still cling to the 19th century tooth-unfriendly pollutant amalgam, despite it being 50% mercury and a health risk to their own dental nurses; and the waste industry, whose obvious self-interest is to keep amalgam going into perpetuity to sell their equipment.

The mercury lobby wanted a treaty focused on amalgam waste; the Parties said NO, this treaty is about use, not about waste. The mercury lobby wanted access to implant mercury fillings in all children, especially those in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; the Parties said NO, and adopted the Children’s Amendment at COP 4—which enters into legal force on 28 September 2023.

So, the dental mercury lobby met repeatedly with GEF and UNEP staff in sessions closed to the Parties . . . closed to the Minamata Secretariat . . . closed to the Minamata Bureau . . . closed to the dozens of CSOs who have actively pushed for a treaty to phase out anthropogenic mercury.

Violating their own standards, GEF and UNEP constructed (or allowed without objection) a project that bypasses the Children’s Amendment entirely in favor of trying to redirect the mission of the treaty from use to waste—the very position repeatedly rejected by the Parties since 2013. Separators do not sell well because they do not and cannot eliminate mercury waste; they only catch the mercury in the dentist office—not the mercury implanted in people—and they require a massive infrastructure to ensure that even that partial waste, from dental offices, is properly disposed of. Only one solution ends mercury waste from amalgam: the switch to mercury-free dentistry.

The #1 beneficiary of this Greenwashing is the world’s only major publicly traded dental products maker expanding sales of amalgam: Southern Dental Industries (SDI) of Melbourne. While its competitors exited or scaled back amalgam—or never made it in the first place—SDI seized their exits as its opportunity to corner the amalgam market.

Just six weeks ago, in a call to its shareholders, SDI’s CEO boasted about its huge increases in amalgam sales, detailed its entry into new markets to sell amalgam, and affirmed her personal goal of ‘maximizing’ amalgam sales! Wriggling into a GEF-UNEP amalgam “reduction” project while increasing amalgam sales, SDI is the sole dental products company in a project partnership role—hence given market access denied to their mercury-free competitors in nations on three continents. Here is a classic case of Corporate Capture!

GEF’s requirement of stakeholder participation at the earliest stage was papered over via a legerdemain: a false claim that the NGOs are participating. Falsely listed as participants are the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, Bangladesh-based Environment and Social Development Organization, Germany-based European Network for Environmental Medicine, Philippines-based BAN Toxics, Nepal-based Center for Public Health and Environmental Development, Cameroun-based Centre de Recherche et d'Education pour le Développement, and U.S.-based Consumers for Dental Choice.

Equally troubling, RAP-AL Uruguay, who leads the campaign for mercury-free dentistry for Latin America, is preliminarily assigned to promote separator sales—a goal anathema to its very mission.

UNEP top brass in Nairobi and GEF top brass in Washington need to act:

  • First, to determine who on their staffs submitted the plethora of false claims of CSO participation;
  • Second, to kill this project, so that the Minamata Convention on Mercury does not become the treaty about corporate capture and greenwashing;
  • Third, to use GEF funding to enact the will of the Parties as stated unequivocally in its 2022 Amendment: stop placing mercury fillings, for all time and all regions, in children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

IPS UN Bureau

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