SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  9 May 2013
Volume 14 Issue 5

Return to the Globe

2013 Update on SETAC's Global Mercury Partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme

Michael S. Bank, University of Massachusetts and Davide Vignati, Université de Lorraine

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 collaborative opportunities for our members. Since its official inception, the partnership has identified nine 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
  • Mercury biogeochemistry
  • 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 Nil Basu.

SETAC Global Mercury Partnership Member Spotlight: Nil Basu

SETAC member and Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry editor Nil Basu is in the midst of transitioning his appointment from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health to McGill University where he will be Associate Professor and Director of the Environmental Health Sciences Laboratory. His lab largely focuses on mercury as a model contaminant to scientifically address emerging and/or controversial topics such as epigenetics, gene–environment interactions, global health and exposure science. His research is guided by scrutinizing and integrating data across species in a comparative manner (humans along with fish, birds, marine and terrestrial mammals) and to scale responses across multiple tiers of biological organization in an integrative fashion (cell → individual → ecosystem). Focal projects worldwide cover marine mammals (e.g., polar bear, ringed seal, pilot whale) in the Arctic with colleagues from Denmark’s Aarhus University and Environment Canada’s National Wildlife Research Center; participation in the annual American Dental Association’s Health Screening Programme; small-scale gold mining communities in Ghana (and West Africa) in conjunction with dozens of partners from local government, universities and NGOs; and wildlife and human assessments of mercury risk in the Great Lakes region from local to regional levels. Basu’s research portfolio to date is funded by a diverse number of sponsors, including the United States National Institutes of Health and Environmental Protection Agency, Environment Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

New Partnership Publications

Vignati DAL, Polesello S, Bettinetti R, Bank MS. 2013. Mercury environmental quality standards for biota in Europe: opportunities and challenges. Integr Environ Assess Manage 9: 167-168.

SETAC Meetings

In November 2012, SETAC members participated in an extremely successful global mercury session and an organizational meeting at the SETAC North America 33rd Annual Meeting in Long Beach, Calif., USA. Additionally, we presented our findings to date to the SETAC Metals Advisory Group.

What's Next?

We have scheduled global mercury sessions, meetings and a new project for the Global Environment Facility of UNEP, presentations and upcoming peer-reviewed publications including:

  • Next up on our agenda is a joint session with chemical management at the SETAC Europe 23rd Annual Meeting from 12–16 May in Glasgow, Scotland, UK.
  • Abstract submission is now open for the SETAC North America 34th Annual Meeting from 17–21 November in Nashville, Tenn., USA, and the deadline is 28 May. See details below for the session"Global Mercury Pollution UNEP Partnership V: Bridging Science and Policy." This is the 5th organized session since the inception of the SETAC Global Mercury Partnership with UNEP.
  • Early bird registration is now open for the 11th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant from 28 July–2 August in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.
  • Abstract submissions to be announced for the SETAC Global Mercury Symposium in October in Japan.
  • Seven scientific papers and an editorial for a proposed special series in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in 2013.

Creating a Mercury Management Toolkit

SETAC will shortly be undertaking a project for the UNEP Global Environment Facility (GEF) to develop an online toolkit for developing countries and emerging economies to inventory their mercury exposure sources and to assist with identifying and prioritizing management approaches. With the signing of the global instrument comes a need to actually begin implementing its provisions. This toolkit builds on the dioxins, furans and POPs toolkit built by the GEF and the emerging chemicals management issues survey and analysis performed by SETAC a couple of years ago. Members of the SETAC Mercury Partnership will be engaged to provide expertise and possibly data for the toolkit. Opportunities for discussion and feedback on the toolkit capabilities and execution will be solicited at several of the above mentioned events. Bruce Vigon, SETAC Scientific Affairs Manager, will lead the effort.

Global Mercury Session at the SETAC North America 34th Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn., USA

Global Mercury Pollution UNEP Partnership V: Bridging Science and Policy Session chairs: Michael S. Bank and Davide Vignati.


Widespread mercury deposition and contamination is well documented and remains an environmental public-health concern in both developed and developing countries. In October 2013, the UNEP’s internationally binding treaty on the control of mercury will be signed. The fifth session summarizes the activities of the SETAC Global Mercury Partnership with UNEP. 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, policies 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.

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 the 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.

We look forward to seeing you in Scotland (Glasgow and Edinburgh); Nashville, Tenn., USA; and Japan in 2013!

Authors’ contact information:,

Return to the Globe

SETAC mission statement Contact SETAC Globe
Contact the SETAC North America office
Contact the SETAC Europe office