Profit from poison

Environmental, health and consumer groups are urging the Spanish government to stop the Spanish Almadén mercury operation.

Environmental, health, and consumer groups are urging the Spanish government to stop the Spanish Almadén mercury operation.

According to the European Environmental Bureau, the mercury from the facility is often used in leaking chlor-alkali plants in India, battery production in Asia and artisanal gold mining in Africa, South America and Asia where upwards of 13 million miners are unknowingly poisoned with mercury each year.

“People from around the world have a right to ask how many more will be needlessly poisoned by mercury before nations like Spain stop the toxic trade in mercury forever, ” said Michael Bender of the Ban Mercury Working Group, a global coalition of 28 nongovernmental groups formed to stop mercury pollution.

“It’s time for the EU and the Spanish Government to assist the Almadén community to move towards more sustainable activities.”

While the mining has stopped in Almadén, the facility continues to export the toxin around the globe from its stockpiles and from trading chlor-alkali mercury. According to recent press reports, the Almadén mine “has plenty of stocks left it can convert” into mercury while serving as the main trader for the EU chlor-alkali industry — typically selling off 500 tons of excess mercury per year primarily to developing countries.

“The Spanish Government should start talks today to close the mine and ban mercury trade and not wait until 2011, as the recent EC Mercury Strategy proposes,” said Elena Lymberidi of the European Environmental Bureau.

“Failure to do so will result in continued contamination of fish—one of the world’s most important protein sources—and the poisoning of people the world over, including Spain.”

Over the past half-century, research has shown that human health is compromised by even smaller concentrations of mercury than previously assumed. Estimates for “safe” exposure to methyl mercury have dropped many times. In 2003, the international scientific committee JECFA recommended cutting the WHO exposure standards for methyl mercury in half from 3.3 per µg/kg body per week to 1.6 µg/kg body per week.