The Illegal Trade in Chemicals

Determining the scale of illegal trade

Figure 4 provides an overview of worldwide consumption of mercury by geographic region and major application. East Asia and South-East Asia are the largest consumers with most of their consumption in vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) production in China and ASGM. South America and sub-Saharan Africa are the next largest with most of their consumption being for ASGM. The mercury consumption figures here include both legal and illegal mercury supplies. The determination of the scale of the illegal trade in mercury focuses on ASGM. The 15 countries identified in Table 3 each use an estimated average of at least 20 tonnes of mercury per year in ASGM, and account for over 85 per cent of all mercury used in ASGM. Although mercury may be traded several times before its end use, these are the most likely final destinations for mercury used in ASGM. Likewise, since most illegal mercury trade is for ASGM use, these are the key countries implicated, although there are more than 50 other countries using less than 20 tonnes of mercury per year in ASGM. Nine of these countries use an estimated average of 10–19 tonnes of mercury per year in ASGM, and another eight countries use 5–9 tonnes per year (Artisanal Gold Council 2017).

A look at the documentation of mercury imports and exports reveals that many of these countries are either not carefully recording mercury imports and/or not reporting such statistics to the Comtrade database, as their formal imports less exports do not correspond at all to the domestic use of mercury in ASGM. This permits a rough calculation of the annual net informal mercury imports of each country, where only three countries have zero net mercury imports. Indonesia has a large internal supply of mercury from domestic mining. Bolivia transparently imports more mercury than it needs for its own substantial ASGM activities. And China not only has its own mercury mining industry, but also uses more than 1,000 tonnes of mercury in its vinyl chloride monomer industry, and hundreds of tonnes in the production of blood pressure measuring devices, thermometers, lamps, and other devices (UNEP 2017). Therefore, for China it is impossible to isolate possible informal mercury imports specifically for use in ASGM. Apart from China, there is little industrial use of mercury in the countries listed in Table 3, although Indonesia, Colombia and the Philippines have small mercury cell chlor-alkali plants,


Mercury consumed 1 worldwide, 2015 - by region and by major application

Chlor-Alkali production Batteries Dental applications Measuring and control devices Lamps Electrical and electronic devices Mercury compounds and other applications 2 Mean 3 tonnes per region






CIS and other European countries


Vinyl Chloride Monomer production (Raw material for PVC)



European Union


North America and Greenland


Middle Eastern States



North Africa

South Asia

Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining



Central America and the Caribbean



East and Southeast Asia

Sub-Saharan Africa

South America


Australia, New Zealand and Oceania

Note1 -The“consumption”ofmercury isde nedhere in termsof theend-useofmercury-addedproducts,asopposed tooverall regional“demand”formercury.Forexample,althoughmostenergy-e cient lamps (suchasCFLs)areproduced inChinaand therefore represent basicChinese“demand”formercury,manyof themareexported,usedanddisposedof inothercountries, representing theactualplaceof“consumption.” Note2 -“Mercurycompoundsandotherapplications” includeusesofmercury incosmetics,pesticides, fungicides,catalysts,chemical intermediates,porosimeters,pycnometers,pharmaceuticals, traditionalmedicine,culturaland ritualuses,etc. Note3 -Thevaluespresentedhereare themeansofwider rangesofestimates representingvarious levelsofuncertainty,dependingon theapplication. Source:UNEnvironmentProgramme,2017.

Figure 4: Mercury consumed worldwide, 2015

The Illegal Trade in Chemicals


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