EU government officials have agreed to effectively ban the use of mercury in batteries from 2000. Meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, a regulatory committee convened under the 1991 EU directive on batteries unanimously adopted a technical adaptation to the law. This will limit mercury levels in alkaline manganese and zinc carbon batteries to 5 parts per million (ppm) - effectively a ban since this is similar to background levels found in other battery components. Simultaneously a mercury limit of 2% by weight in "button" cells is to be introduced where previously there was no EU legal limit. The agreement marks the end of a review of EU law on limits on toxic heavy metals in batteries sparked by Austria and Sweden's stricter standards when they joined the Union in 1995. The new EU limits will actually be stricter than those currently in force in Austria, the country's environment ministry said yesterday, though it noted moves already afoot to strengthen Austrian law on the issue. EU manufacturers of consumer batteries phased out the use of mercury in 1993, so the measure is likely to affect only the approximately 2% of EU battery sales that are manufactured in other parts of the world (ENDS Daily 7 July).
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