The Dangers of Mercury

On January 19, 2013, governments around the world agreed to a new treaty on mercury, a highly toxic substance that attacks the central nervous system and is particularly harmful to children. Despite some flaws, this global treaty could be a huge step forward in protecting the right to health.


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Children's Rights


Ghana: Mine Accident Highlights Risk to Children
Enforce Safety Standards, Prevent Child Labor in Artisanal Gold Mining
A recent mining accident killed 16 people at an unlicensed artisanal gold mine in Ghana, underscoring the need for tougher measures to end child labor and protect the safety of adult artisanal miners. Read More>>

Tanzania's Children and the Toxic Lure of Gold
by Janine Morna
Think Africa Press
Tanzania needs to act on child labour in the hazardous gold mining industry, fast. Read More >>

The Global Mercury Treaty: Japan’s Chance or Shame
by Kanae Doi
Mercury is an ancient metal rich in history, cloaked with mystery and power. Read More >>

Mercury Convention "Must Be Brought to Life"
by Juliane Kippenberg
Public Service Europe
This weekend, more than 140 governments agreed on the text for a new legally binding convention on mercury, a highly toxic metal. Read More >>

Governments Should Sign, Ratify Mercury Treaty
Address Global Threat of Poisonous, Polluting Substance
Mercury is a highly toxic liquid metal that attacks the central nervous system and remains in the environment for long periods of time. Read More>>

Mercury Treaty Will Help Protect Right to Health
This is the first time that an environmental treaty contains explicit action on prevention and treatment of mercury poisoning. Read More >>

Take mercury out of children’s hands
by Juliane Kippenberg
Public Service Europe
Mercury is present in many areas - such as gold mining, industrial production, coal burning and dental medicine – and therefore needs to be regulated across the globe. Read More >>

Mercury Treaty: Last Chance to Address Health Effects
Millions of people around the globe are exposed to mercury on a daily basis, in artisanal mining and elsewhere. There is a dire need for stronger prevention and treatment of mercury poisoning. Read More >>

Take mercury out of children’s hands
by Juliane Kippenberg
Global Post
Mercury, the silvery liquid metal, known to many from old thermometers, is one of the most toxic substances on earth. Read More >>




A Poisonous Mix: Child Labor, Mercury, and Artisanal Gold Mining in Mali

“I started gold mining at a small age,” said a 15-year-old girl. “I pan for gold, I also work with mercury... I also burn it. I have never heard that this is unhealthy. I work with mercury every day.”
Download the 108-Page Report Now >>


Toxic Toil: Child Labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania’s Small-Scale Gold Mines

Children risk injury from pit collapses and accidents with tools, as well as long-term health damage from exposure to mercury, breathing dust, and carrying heavy loads.
Download the 96-Page Report Now >>


Gold's Costly Dividend

Many of Papua New Guinea’s most intractable problems are inextricably bound up with the country’s most promising sources of wealth- mining, gas, timber, and other extractive industries.
Download the Report Now >>


What is Mercury?
Mercury is a toxic metal that attacks the central nervous system. It can cause life-long disability and, in extreme cases, death. Mercury can reach the body through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact.

Mining Gold With Mercury
Around the world, at least 13 million people—many of them children—work in artisanal gold mining, using basic tools. Mercury is mixed with the ore in order to extract the gold, a job done by children as well as adults.

Endangering Children
Children are particularly susceptible to the harms of mercury poisoning because their bodies are still developing. Infants can be exposed through breast milk and fetuses can be exposed to mercury in utero. There is no known safe level of exposure.

Polluting the Environment
Virtually all the mercury that is used in artisanal mining is released into air, rivers, and soil, posing a serious health risk for adults and children working in mining, communities living near mines, and for populations globally.

The Role of Governments
Governments are already obligated to protect the health of their citizens through a number of different international laws and treaties.

Mercury: A Global Health Treaty


About the Treaty

The Minamata Convention – named after a mercury poisoning disaster that killed more than 1,700 people in Japan in the 1950s – will be adopted at a diplomatic conference in Japan in October. It will take effect once 50 countries have ratified it. Human Rights Watch calls upon governments to sign the convention at the conference, and start the ratification process as soon as possible.


The treaty will use international funding earmarked for environmental issues to assist countries with implementation, and to help them address the threat of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

Mining Without Mercury

Under the new treaty, governments are obligated to draw up action plans on artisanal and small-scale gold mining. Under these plans, governments must eliminate the most harmful forms of mercury use, such as burning amalgam – the combination of mercury and gold – in residential areas, which endangers people living there. Governments also have to promote methods of mining without mercury.

Protecting Children

The new treaty recognizes children’s particular vulnerability to mercury, and it obliges governments to develop strategies that prevent the exposure of children and women of child-bearing age to mercury when it’s used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. This requirement lays the groundwork for specific measures designed to protect children, like reducing child labor.

Improving Health Care

The treaty obliges governments to help affected mining communities by taking specific health measures, such as gathering health data, raising awareness about mercury through health facilities, and training healthcare workers.

In addition, the treaty helps people affected by mercury beyond the mining sector by calling for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment for mercury-related conditions. It is the first time that an environmental treaty promotes specific health strategies.