The theme of the conference was ‘science informing global policy’ and as such provided a launchpad for the new UNEP Minamata Convention on Mercury, drafted in Geneva earlier this year. Many of the papers and posters concentrated on how the text of the new convention could be put into practice through research and development activities.
Conference Chair Dr Lesley Sloss said: “It is essential that political decisions are based on sound science, so it is very encouraging to see such a large volume of work in the field of mercury research.
“Many of the most impressive presentations were given by young researchers and students, which is very encouraging because these are the people that will endorse changes and monitor mercury for compliance with the treaty.
Highlights of the event’s opening press conference can be viewed at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyVvXhYNHyQ. The conference itself was launched with welcoming addresses from Mr Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Minister for the Environment and Climate Change; Mr Anders Flanking (via Loic Viatte), State Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Sweden; and Mr David Piper, Department Head, UNEP Chemicals Branch.
The major sources of mercury emissions, such as coal incineration and artisanal gold mining, were the subjects of greatest attention. Other agenda items claiming the highest levels of interest included the panel discussions on mercury in dental amalgams and vaccines. These led to lively debates and Dr Pal Weihi’s presentation drew a large crowd and a film crew. Dr Weihi described the health effects of pilot whale meat consumption in the Faroe Islands and explained that a reduction in dietary whale meat has led to lower mercury levels in the Faroese people.
Another presentation, by Prof. Philippe Grandjean, described a research project which studied a Bristol (UK) cohort, and showed that IQ deficits at school age linked to prenatal methylmercury exposure may be much greater in subjects with mutations in certain genes. So it appears that there is a high degree of variability in susceptibility to methylmercury exposure which has very important health and environment implications. Prof Grandjean recorded a short informative summary of his work which can be viewed at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtP4gSl94SY
• The next ICMGPs will take place in Jeju, Korea in 2015 and then New England, USA, in 2017.