Mercury is an indestructible chemical element, the only metal that is liquid at ambient temperature. It is highly toxic to humans, animals and ecosystems, but it is found in various forms all across the world, in the air, water, sediments, soil and even inside living organisms.
In the presence of bacteria, mercury can change into methylmercury, its most toxic form. The main risk of exposure for human beings is food. Methylmercury accumulates in the food chain, and particularly in fish. Even relatively low doses can seriously affect the nervous system and could also harm the cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems. Methylmercury readily passes through both the placenta and the blood-brain barrier, so exposure of women of child-bearing age and of children is of greatest concern. You can find more information here.
The EU mercury strategy, launched in 2005, addresses in particular mercury emissions to air, an export ban for mercury and certain mercury compounds and restrictions on products containing mercury and industrial processes using mercury.
As mercury is not stopped by international borders, the EU also endeavours to address the global challenges of mercury. Considerable progress has been made in this respect. Spearheaded by UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, this international process has resulted in 2013 in the international Minamata Convention, named after the Japanese town where the worst ever case of mercury pollution happened in the years 1950.
The European Commission is currently engaged in preparatory work and consultations, aiming to propose in 2015 the ratification of the Minamata Convention by the EU.