The Illegal Trade in Chemicals

Sources of mercury

Prior to the EU mercury export ban under the 2008 EU Mercury Regulation, 800–1,000 tonnes of mercury or more were available every year from Mayasa’s Almadén mercury mine in Spain and from the chlor-alkali industry. As the deadline for the EU export ban approached in March 2011, Mayasa exported its remaining stocks of mercury out of the country, some of them to Singapore, but also 102 tonnes to Panama, to a company registered in the name of the Commercial Director of Mayasa (El Confidencial 2016). Once outside the EU, these stocks were no longer subject to the export ban and were gradually sold to other buyers over the ensuing years. In a similar manner, much larger stocks of mercury were moved, mostly to Singapore, from various warehouses in the EU (Rotterdam, Antwerp and others) before the EU export ban took effect. Before the US export ban in 2013, the US chlor-alkali industry, which held large quantities of excess mercury after it converted to a mercury-free process, was also a major source of mercury export to other countries, along with by-product mercury from the processing of ferrous metal ores and concentrates. As the US export ban approached, many of these stocks were also exported to Singapore, and resulted inmassive stocks that were sold to other buyers over the subsequent years (UNEP 2017).

alkali mercury from some facilities outside the EU and the US, and recycling of mercury-added products and wastes, especially the depleted mercuric chloride catalyst from the VCM industry in China (UNEP 2017). Other sources or stocks sometimes arise, such as 14,000 flasks of “former Kyrgyz” mercury offered to traders by a Russian source in 2016 (Maxson 2016a). And there were substantial stocks of mercury exported by Mayasa from the EU (especially to Singapore, Peru and Panama) just before the 2011 effective date of the 2008 EU export ban (Comtrade 2018). Any of these sources may be linked in some way to illegal mercury trade, but the least transparent sources now are the quantities of mined mercury informally leaving Indonesia and Mexico, excess mercury from the chlor-alkali industry in parts of the world not subject to EU and US export bans and, to some extent, the mercury recovered from artisanal recycling of VCM catalyst in China (UNEP 2017). In other parts of the world, in rough order of importance, Singapore, Hong Kong, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Panama, India and Vietnam serve as the main mercury supply hubs for both legal and illegal mercury trade. These hubs may be used sequentially or independently for a given shipment, depending on customer needs and the motivations of traders.

In recent years, the main mercury sources have been Chinese, Indonesian and Mexican mining, by-product mercury, chlor-

The Illegal Trade in Chemicals


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