Plans for European Union restrictions on mercury have been thrown into confusion
Arthur Rogers/Strasbourg, France
Plans for European Union restrictions on mercury have been thrown into confusion by European Parliament moves to exempt small firms that make and repair barometers. British and Dutch MEPs who proposed the exemption argue that these firms typically use recycled mercury, and that the trade serves as a ’knowledge centre for the safe handling of this metal’.
The exemption cuts across a deal between MEPs and ministers aimed at clinching fast-track agreement of the European Commission’s proposal to ban use of the metal in thermometers and other measurement devices, saving annual consumption of 33 tonnes.
The legislation can go ahead if ministers act swiftly to accept the Strasbourg amendment; otherwise, the proposal risks being overtaken by the imminent launch of the Reach regulatory regime on chemicals.
Restrictions on mercury would then fall within the remit of the embryonic Helsinki-based European Chemicals Agency, resulting in a delay of months if not years, according to those MEPs who favour comprehensive prohibition.