"Let us hope that other countries will follow our example and support our goal of cutting the global supply of this dangerous substance," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, welcoming the Council's final rubber stamp on the regulation.
Following yesterday's adoption, all mercury exports from the EU will stop as off March 2011. The new legislation also requires that the remaining surplus of mercury needs to be put into safe storage as of the same date.
The Council's adoption follows a compromise deal struck between the three EU institutions earlier this Spring after debate on when the ban should enter in force and whether it should have also included imports (EurActiv 22/05/08).
Demands by the Parliament to impose a ban on mercury imports were rejected as impractical and importing mercury will therefore still be possible. Meanwhile the export ban enters in force earlier than initially proposed by the Commission (October 2011).
Mercury is a highly toxic substance and its contamination comes from a wide variety of sources, such as waste recycling and industrial facilities involved in cleaning non-ferrous metals and natural gas. In the EU, the chlor-alkali industry remains the largest single user of mercury and has already committed to either close or convert its mercury plants by 2020 at the latest.
According to the Commission, the export ban is "a key part of the EU's strategy for reducing the global supply of mercury and thereby limiting emissions of the highly toxic heavy metal into the environment".
The Commission first presented its proposal for a regulation to control mercury back in 2006 (EurActiv 26/10/06). The proposal followed the EU's 2005 mercury strategy, which outlined a comprehensive plan for addressing mercury pollution both in the EU and globally.