According to UNEP's Global Mercury Assessment, mercury is now present in the environment and food (especially fish) all over the globe at levels that adversely affect humans and wildlife. The foetus, the newborn and young children are especially susceptible to mercury exposure because of the sensitivity of the developing nervous system.
The Global Mercury Assessment report recommends that the UNEP Governing Council to: (1) take measures such as reducing or eliminating the production, consumption and releases of mercury; (2) substitute other products and processes; (3) launch negotiations for a legally-binding treaty; (4) establish a non-binding global programme of action; (5) strengthen cooperation amongst governments on information-sharing, risk communication, assessment and related activities.
The Mercury Working Group also submitted to the Governing Council a range of possible immediate actions such as increasing protection of sensitive populations (through enhanced outreach to pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant), providing technical and financial support to developing countries and to countries with economies in transition, and supporting increased research, monitoring and data-collection on the health and environmental aspects of mercury and on environmentally friendly alternatives to mercury.
In terms of initiatives to reduce or eliminate uses and releases of mercury, the report refers to the EU legislation as a good example of coordinated approach. However, mercury policies differ widely between Member States. While Sweden, has an export/import ban on mercury and has banned most of its uses, Spain is maintaining mercury production and sells it all over the world. EU legislation concerning mercury provides for restrictions on marketing and use, ban on use in certain products and applications, regulations concerning emissions to air and water and waste treatment legislation. During its meeting, the UNEP Governing Council will also consider whether there is a need for assessments of other heavy metals of possible global concern.