Singapore is expected to be among the first countries today to sign a new United Nations agreement on curbing mercury poisoning and pollution.
Called the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the document will be opened for countries to sign in Kumamoto, Japan, as part of a diplomatic conference that began on Wednesday there to adopt it.
Countries who sign the agreement will pledge to ban or reduce the import, export, use and manufacturing of products with mercury, among other measures to protect people and the environment from the risk of mercury exposure.
Mercury is a heavy metal that can be released into the air and water through activities such as small-scale gold mining and waste incineration. It is also found in some products such as some thermometers, batteries and skin-lightening creams.
Exposure to mercury can cause damage to the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and nervous and immune systems.
However, the agreement will only take effect when at least 50 countries sign it and ratify it domestically. More than a hundred countries, including Singapore, have attended sessions to negotiate its terms in the past three years.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan was in Kumamoto on Thursday and Friday to sign the document on behalf of Singapore.
The Republic already meets several of the agreement's terms. Cosmetics with mercury and its compounds have been banned here since 2008.
Only products to be applied around the eyes are exempted, but they cannot contain more than 0.007 per cent of mercury to be used as a preservative.
The National Environment Agency said it has limited the use of mercury in products over the years, for example, by restricting it in batteries, clinical thermometers and fluorescent lamps.
The Ministry of Health and Health Sciences Authority said in a joint statement that some eye and ear products and nasal sprays here may have mercury in small amounts as a preservative, but these are safe.
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