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Man-Made Mercury Emissions Declined Between 1990-2010, Study Reveals

First Posted: Jan 18, 2016 02:09 PM EST

Researchers found that global mercury emissions from man-made sources have declined by 30 percent between 1990 and 2010. The results from the study now challenges long term assumptions regarding mercury emissions.

The presence of mercury in ecosystems poses major environmental health risks to both humans and wildlife.

"For years, mercury researchers have been unable to explain the apparent conundrum between declining air concentrations and rising emission estimates," Yanxu Zhang, lead author of the study, said in a news release. "Our work is the first detailed, mechanistic analysis to explain the declining atmospheric mercury trend."

The researchers observed atmospheric mercury reductions in North America and Europe, where the decline was drive by several factors. They found that mercury was gradually phased out from numerous commercial products, while regulations were put in place on coal-fired power plants, where mercury was removed from coal that was being burnt. Also, many power plants now use natural gas instead of coal, which further reduced mercury emissions.

"The local and regional benefits from reduced mercury emissions are realized to a much greater degree than we ever thought previously," said Elsie Sunderland, coauthor of the study. "This is great news for focused efforts on reducing exposure of fish, wildlife and humans to toxic mercury."

While global mercury emission has decline in North American and Europe between 1990 and 2010, the trends have actually increased in Asia.

The findings of this study were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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