Science » Technologies and discoveries

High Mercury Content in Polar Atmospheric Precipitation Threatens Humans and Animals - 7 October, 2002

The authors of a report on the condition of arctic environment published recently in Rovaniemi, Lapland capital, during the world congress on Arctic ecology believe that the high content of mercury in atmospheric precipitation is a threat to humans and animals in polar regions. The forum is organised by the workgroup setup to carry out the Programme for Arctic Monitoring and Assessment of the Arctic Council.

According to the analysts working under the programme, Arctic areas receive most of mercury contained in the atmosphere. The element enters ground waters and becomes part of the turnover cycle. Mercury enters ground waters when ozone masses split because of excessive sun radiation. The resulting excess of oxygen leads to the oxidation of excessive numbers of mercury and the appearance of a lot of its water-soluble derivatives.

According to Suzanne Marcy, the leading researcher of the workgroup from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no way of telling how long this mechanism has been working and whether it has always been like this or just recently became active. However, she certifies that mercury content in arctic precipitation is twice that throughout the rest of the world. In some areas, such as Eastern Canada, Greenland, Farer Islands, and Lapland, mercury concentration is so high that it becomes dangerous to animals and people eating their meat.

The increase of emissions containing mercury into the atmosphere has been recently increasing throughout the world. It is mostly due to the burning of coal, especially in Asia. There are forecasts that the population and economies of Asia growing, the amount of mercury in the atmosphere should increase even more.

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