The Global Mercury Assessment 2013 highlights parts of Asia, Africa, and South America as having increasing emissions of mercury into the environment, due mainly to the use of the toxic element in small-scale gold mining, and through the burning of coal for electricity generation.
Sources noted as driving this exposure including cosmetics such as skin-lightening creams and mascara, as UNEP warns that mercury contained in such products can also enter the waste stream.
"Emissions of the toxic metal from artisanal gold mining have doubled since 2005, in part due to new and better information and Asia is the largest regional emitter of mercury, accounting for just under half of all global releases, due to rapid industrialization."
The study breaks down mercury emissions by region and economic sector, while also highlighting that significant releases into the environment is linked to contaminated sites and deforestation. It further estimates that 260 tonnes of mercury, previously held in soils, are being released into rivers and lakes.
Alongside its' publication on the matter, Mercury: Time to Act, UNEP's new assessment is currently being presented at the International Negotiating Committee on Mercury (INC5), in Geneva this week.
Governments attending the major conference are said to be aiming to conclude discussions on a global legally binding treaty to minimize risks to people and the environment from exposure to mercury.
The longterm goal of the report and conference UNEP says, is to reduce cases of neurological and behavioral disorders, and other health problems linked to mercury, as well as the contamination of soils and rivers caused by man-made emissions of the metal.
Mercury issues in Asia
Cosmetic products containing mercury have of late, been popping up in the Asia-Pacific region far too often for environmental watchdog, The Ecowaste Coalition's liking.
Just last month, it was putting pressure on the Philippines Food and Drug Administration after discovering first hand that cosmetics containing mercury were still available over the counter, despite being banned in the region.
“Unlike other contraband goods which are usually sold under-the-counter, mercury-laden cosmetics are openly offered for sale, making a mockery of FDA’s recall orders aimed at safeguarding consumer health and safety,” says the Coalition’s Aileen Lucero.