Worldwide human-caused mercury emissions decreased 30 percent from 1990 to 2010, according to research published in January 2016 by Harvard University, Peking University (Beijing, China), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (Mainz, Germany), and the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Canada).
Mercury is transported globally when released into the atmosphere through coal combustion, mining, manufacturing, commercial products, and volcanic activity. Once deposited into ecosystems, including aquatic systems, it can be converted to methylmercury and pose health risks to wildlife and humans.
According to the a January 13, 2016, USGS news release on the research, the large decreasing trends in human-generated mercury observed in North America and Europe reflect the phase-out of mercury from commercial products, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emission controls on coal-fired utilities, and the increasing transition to natural gas in power plants. The study’s authors noted that the observed decreases offset increasing emission trends in Asia. “This is important for policy and decision-makers, as well as natural resource managers, because, as our results show, their actions can have tangible effects on mercury emissions, even at the local level,” said study co-author Vincent St. Louis of the University of Alberta in the USGS news release.
The study is entitled “Observed decrease in atmospheric mercury explained by global decline in anthropogenic emissions,” published in January 2016 in the online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For more information about the study, follow the link below.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey, “Science Feature: North American and European Atmospheric Mercury Declines Explained by Local and Regional Emission Reductions,” online at http://toxics.usgs.gov/highlights/2016-01-13-global_mercury_decline.html, accessed 1/25/16.
For more information on mercury in the environment:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Mercury in Your Environment, online at http://www.epa.gov/mercury.
U.S. Geological Survey, “Mercury in Aquatic Ecosystems,” online at http://toxics.usgs.gov/investigations/mercury.html.
This post was written by Taylor Richmond, a Virginia Tech student doing an internship in Spring 2016 with the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.