Issue Date: May 11, 2009
Mercury Rising In Pacific Ocean
Mercury levels in the Pacific Ocean are expected to double relative to 1995 levels by 2050 if air emission rates of the neurotoxic metal continue as projected, concludes a study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists. The work, published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles (DOI: 10.1029/2008GB003425), shows for the first time that mercury originating from atmospheric emissions off the coast of Asia can be transported long distances by ocean currents. Previously, such long-range transport was thought to occur only in the air. The researchers sampled 16 sites in the eastern North Pacific Ocean and found that water samples collected in 2006 had 30% more mercury than samples collected in the mid-1990s. Although the scientists have yet to measure mercury levels in fish harvested from the Pacific to determine whether they too are on the rise, the National Fisheries Institute, a trade group for the seafood industry, points out that "peer-reviewed research shows no mercury increase in oceangoing fish over the past 30 years." In response to the USGS study, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson pledged to work with international partners to reduce mercury emissions from sources such as coal-fired power plants.
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