SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  10 May 2012
Volume 13 Issue 5

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2012 Update on SETAC's Global Mercury Partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme

Michael Bank, Harvard Medical School, USA and Davide Vignati, Université de Lorraine, France

SETAC's decisions in January 2011 to join the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Mercury Partnership and, more recently, to seek observer status in the negotiations on a global mercury convention have opened exciting new opportunities for our members. Since its official inception, the partnership has identified eight priority areas in which SETAC is particularly looking to promote scientific advances:

  • Mercury isotope chemistry and source-apportionment models
  • Human and animal toxicology and exposure
  • Climate change, global modeling and mercury bioavailability
  • Mercury emissions from cement factories
  • Risk communication
  • Mercury emissions from coal-fired plants
  • Environmental risk assessment protocols for mercury
  • Identification and summary of mercury-contaminated sites

Here we provide an update of recent activities. Additionally, in this issue's member spotlight, we highlight the work and activities of Professor Noelle Selin and her students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

SETAC Meetings
In November 2011, SETAC members participated in an extremely successful global mercury session and an organizational meeting at the SETAC North America 32nd Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Additionally, we presented our findings, to date, to SETAC's Heavy Metal Advisory Board.

Next up on our agenda is the second formal global mercury session, which will be held during the 6th SETAC World Congress and SETAC Europe 22nd Annual Meeting in Berlin, Germany (Session RA-10). The session is scheduled for 10:50-12:50 on Wednesday morning, 23 May in ECC Room 2. Also, look for the SETAC global mercury informational side meeting in Berlin, scheduled for 18:00-19:00 on Tuesday, 22 May in Room30412.

SETAC Global Mercury Partnership Member Spotlight: Noelle Selin and Students
SETAC member Noelle Selin, Assistant Professor of Engineering Systems and Atmospheric Chemistry at MIT, together with graduate student Leah Stokes and MIT Professor Lawrence Susskind, has developed an educational role-playing simulation called "The Mercury Game," based on the ongoing mercury treaty negotiations. The Mercury Game has two goals: first, to model and understand how scientific evidence is incorporated into environmental negotiations; second, to help scientists, students and decision-makers understand this process. Playing the game helps participants explore the consequences of representing scientific uncertainty in various ways in a policy context. The game focuses on the credibility of various sources of technical information, strategies for representing risk and uncertainty and the balance between scientific and political considerations. The game is freely available for download and can be used in undergraduate and graduate science courses. Development of the Mercury Game was funded by the US National Science Foundation Atmospheric Chemistry Program ("CAREER: Understanding Chemistry, Transport and Fate of Mercury and Persistent Organic Pollutants through Global Atmospheric Modeling," grant #1053648 to N.E. Selin). Under the same grant, Selin and six MIT graduate students will attend the final negotiating session for the treaty, which is expected to be held in January 2013 in Geneva. At the negotiations, this delegation of MIT students will observe the process, talk with delegates and present relevant mercury research as a side event or poster display.

What's Next?
We have scheduled global mercury sessions, meetings, presentations and upcoming peer-reviewed publications including:

  • SETAC North America 33rd Annual Meeting, 11—15 November 2012, Long Beach, California, USA- Abstract submission is now open and the deadline is 01 June 2012. See details below for the following session-Global Mercury Pollution UNEP Partnership III: Bridging Science and Policy
  • SETAC Asia/Pacific, Kumamoto, Japan, 24—27 September, 2012– Abstract submission is now closed.
  • 16th International Conference on Heavy Metals in the Environment, 23—27 September, 2012, Rome, Italy
  • Synthesis papers (8) and an editorial for a special section of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Winter, 2012.

SETAC North America 33rd Annual Meeting, Long Beach, California, USA – Global Mercury Session
Global Mercury Pollution UNEP Partnership III: Bridging Science and Policy Session chairs: Dr. Michael S. Bank1 and Dr. Davide Vignati2 1Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA, 2Université de Lorraine, France

Victims Memorial
Minamata Disease Victims Memorial, Minamata, Kumamoto, Japan.

Widespread mercury deposition and contamination is well documented and remains an environmental public-health concern in both developed and developing countries. In early 2013, the UNEP’s internationally binding treaty on the control of mercury will be signed. Documentation of the pervasiveness of this contaminant is a first step toward understanding the potential environmental health and ecological implications of mercury pollution and will be critical to the success of the UNEP program. Conveying to regulators that certain ecosystems may be degraded and that, despite globally low mercury levels in abiotic matrices, policy is another critical step for developing the required regulation to reduce mercury emissions and, ultimately, improve air and water quality. In practice, a more synthesized, holistic perspective on the mechanisms related to aquatic and terrestrial biogeochemistry linkages of fate, transport and bioavailability of mercury in aquatic ecosystems will have to result from long-term, multi-ecosystem monitoring programs coupled with process-oriented research questions. At the same time, the existing or newly developed regulatory tools will have to combine ease of implementation and cost effectiveness with scientific soundness and the ability to detect ecosystem and human health improvements, or lack thereof, over time. A substantial harmonization effort of such tools, either globally or at least regionally, will also be needed. SETAC is particularly looking to promote advances in mercury isotope chemistry, new mercury source-apportionment models, environmental risk assessment protocols for mercury and development of appropriate environmental quality standards. Contributions to all aspects of mercury research are welcome including case studies, global, or large-scale assessments and inventories of mercury emissions, fundamental studies dealing with the biogeochemistry, including analytical aspects and ecotoxicology of mercury and regulatory issues and risk assessment procedures for environmental and public health.

We look forward to your participation and hope you can provide us with guidance on how to make this partnership flourish. Please send us information on what we can do to assist you and feel free to contact us with any ideas, comments, questions and suggestions or simply to learn more about how to get involved with this exciting new global mercury partnership with UNEP. Please email us to be included on the UNEP-SETAC Global Mercury Partnership email distribution list to receive detailed updates.

Thank you very much. We look forward to seeing you in Berlin and Long Beach!

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