Observed Decrease in Atmospheric Mercury Explained by Global Decline in Anthropogenic Emissions

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (January 4, 2016; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1516312113) / by Yanxu Zhang, et al.

Anthropogenic mercury poses risks to humans and ecosystems when converted to methylmercury. A longstanding conundrum has been the apparent disconnect between increasing global emissions trends and measured declines in atmospheric mercury in North America and Europe. This work shows that locally deposited mercury close to coal-fired utilities has declined more rapidly than previously anticipated because of shifts in speciation from air pollution control technology targeted at SO2 and NOx. Reduced emissions from utilities over the past two decades and the phase-out of mercury in many commercial products has led to lower global anthropogenic emissions and associated deposition to ecosystems. This implies that prior policy assessments underestimated the regional benefits of declines in mercury emissions from coal-fired utilities.

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