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Germany has become the 16th country to ratify the Protocol on Heavy Metals. The Protocol will, consequently, enter into force on 29 December 2003.

The Protocol, originally adopted on 24 June 1998 in Aarhus (Denmark) and signed by 35 countries and the European Community, will be the seventh to take effect under the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The sixth Protocol, that on Persistent Organic Pollutants, will take effect later this month on 23 October.

The Protocol on Heavy Metals focuses on three toxic heavy metals, cadmium, lead and mercury, and its ultimate objective is to control the man-made emissions of heavy metals that cause harm to our health and the environment.

All three metals in the Protocol are well-known pollutants that have caused severe damage in some parts of the world and more widespread chronic effects in some populations. Mercury, for instance, is a pollutant that can travel very long distances and high levels of mercury, attributed to man-made emissions, have been found in fish, especially in some parts of Northern Europe and North America, making it unsafe for human consumption. Heavy metals can cause blood disorders and affect vital organs such as the liver and the kidneys.

Many Governments have taken steps to remove lead from petrol, and the phasing-out of leaded petrol is one of the requirements of the Protocol.

There are many industrial sources of heavy metal pollution (coal combustion in power stations and heating plants, iron and steel industry, non-ferrous metal industry, refuse incineration and chlorine production) and the application of best available techniques (BAT) is another requirement of the Protocol.

The Protocol also introduces measures to lower heavy metal emissions from other products, such as mercury in batteries, and proposes the introduction of management measures for other mercury-containing products, such as electrical components (thermostats, switches), measuring devices (thermometers, manometers, barometers), fluorescent lamps, dental amalgam, pesticides and paint.

Since the Protocol will take effect only after the next session of the Convention's Executive Body on 15-18 December 2003, the 16 Parties to the Protocol, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and the European Community, will have their first meeting at the Executive Body's session scheduled for December 2004 in Geneva. The Convention's Expert Group on Heavy Metals meanwhile will continue its work to provide the Parties to the Protocol with the necessary information to consider reviews of some of the provisions of the Protocol to see if they need to be updated. They may also begin to consider the addition of other heavy metals to the Protocol.

For further information, please contact:

Brinda WACHS

Environment and Human Settlements Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
Palais des Nations, office 327
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: +41(0)22 917 24 52
Fax: +41(0)22 907 06 21
E-mail: brinda.wachs@unece.org
Web site: http://www.unece.org/env/lrtap/

Ref: ECE/ENV/03/P21