National / Science & Health

Japan to survey mercury use in batteries and other products, in line with Minamata Convention and domestic law

JIJI

Environment Ministry will start investigating possible uses of mercury in commercial products, such as button cells and fluorescent lights, from April, sources with knowledge of the matter have said.

Following the entry into force in August 2017 of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which bans the manufacture and trade of products containing the toxic substance, the ministry will strictly monitor whether such products are on sale with false labeling.

The ministry will check a broad range of products in the first year and intensively examine specific items in fiscal 2019 and later, the sources said.

The Japanese-led convention bans the production, and export and import of items using mercury by 2020 in principle.

The treaty was named after the city of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, where decades ago methylmercury-tainted factory wastewater caused a neurological disorder — subsequently named Minamata disease — that affected a number of local people. A similar disease was caused by wastewater containing methylmercury in Niigata Prefecture.

In Japan, the production, and export and import of button-type silver oxide batteries, fluorescent lamps and cosmetics that contain mercury have also been prohibited since last month in principle under the new mercury pollution prevention law.

The ministry considers it necessary to ascertain whether the regulation is being observed through hearings and purchases of products on sale, the sources said.

Specifically, the ministry will buy products from large retail stores and online shops, and analyze their components. It will also consult with sellers and others about the production and distribution of such items.

The use of mercury appears to have been stopped for most of the items produced by Japanese manufacturers.

But due to the possibility that some imported products containing mercury are still on sale in the country, Japan, which is playing a leading role in the international efforts to eliminate its use, is resolved to conduct strict monitoring.