Study: Mercury can travel long distances

December 12, 2005

University of Washington scientists say they may have determined why mercury in the atmosphere might be washed out more easily than earlier believed.

Scientists for years have been unable to explain high levels of the chemical in fish found far from industrial sources of mercury pollution.

The latest research suggests mercury can be carried long distances in the atmosphere, combining with other airborne chemicals that are much more water-soluble and, therefore, more easily washed from the air in rainfall.

Philip Swartzenruber, a UW doctoral student, notes mercury generally is present in the atmosphere in only very small amounts compared with other pollutants. However, mercury doesn't break down, so after washing from the atmosphere it can be converted to a more toxic form -- methyl mercury.

Swartzenruber says the more toxic form of mercury can become very concentrated.

"By the time mercury gets to the top of the food chain, it can increase by a factor of a million," he said. "It can go from being nearly undetectable in the air to being toxic to larger organisms."

Swartzendruber presented his team's findings last week during the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

Explore further: A day in the park–tracking mercury with dragonfly larvae

Related Stories

A day in the park–tracking mercury with dragonfly larvae

September 26, 2016

Mercury is a toxic element that can adversely impact human and wildlife health. And while it can be found as an introduced pollutant in the environment, it can also occur naturally. Mercury enters the environment from coal ...

Mercury contamination prevalent in western North America

September 14, 2016

Mercury contamination is widespread across western North America in the air, soil, lake sediments, plants, fish and wildlife, according to an international research team that included a University of Michigan biologist.

Beware the air we breathe

September 27, 2016

Health-damaging atmospheric pollutants, which the World Health Organization warned Tuesday affected nine out of every 10 people, originate mainly from industry, heating and transport.

Researchers warn of legacy mercury in the environment

July 8, 2013

Environmental researchers at Harvard University have published evidence that significant reductions in mercury emissions will be necessary just to stabilize current levels of the toxic element in the environment. So much ...

Summer is here and the mercury is rising… literally

July 15, 2009

Hot town, summer in the city. When it comes to air-quality advisories, city residents are no strangers, especially during the dog days of summer. But smog is made up of an array of air pollutants, including the mad hatter’s ...

Recommended for you

The case for co-decaying dark matter

December 5, 2016

(Phys.org)—There isn't as much dark matter around today as there used to be. According to one of the most popular models of dark matter, the universe contained much more dark matter early on when the temperature was hotter. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.