In a second reading vote on Wednesday (21 May), the Parliament gave its formal seal of approval to a compromise deal reached previously with member state diplomats in the EU Council of Ministers.
The text, a regulation that will directly apply into the EU's 27 national legal systems, will now be forwarded to environment ministers for a final rubber-stamping at a meeting on 5 June.
Importing mercury will still be possible
The compromise includes adding two compounds – mercurous chloride and mercuric oxide – to the list of substances banned for export, according to a statement by the European Commission. It also brings forward the export ban and storage obligations to March 2011, a few months earlier than originally planned.
Exports of mercury mixtures will now also be banned if the other component contains at least 95% of the substance.
However, demands by the European Parliament to impose a ban on mercury imports were rejected as impractical. And calls to extend the scope of the export ban to mercury-containing products already prohibited in the EU were also dismissed.
Storage to be made safer
On the storage aspect, it was agreed that mercury waste should be kept "in a way that is safe for human health and the environment" before eventually being disposed of. Such places include abandoned salt mines, deep underground hard rock formations or specific safe storage facilities above the ground.
But to the disappointment of environmental groups, permanent underground disposal of liquid mercury will still be a possibility. However, this can only be done if measures to transform the liquid mercury into a solid compound are explored first. The NGOs said they hoped that "provided that an environmentally safe solidification process is available soon, it will become mandatory requirement".