Study rejects anthropogenic origin of mercury

by William Yeatman on July 20, 2004

in Science

A recent study published in Hydrology and Earth System Science has found that high mercury levels in the environment may not be the result of coal-fired power plants.  The paper by E.C. Krug and D. Winstanley of the Illinois State Water Survey, Comparison of mercury in atmospheric deposition and in Illinois and USA soils, comes after the recent emergence of an environmentalist offensive calling for increased regulation of mercury (Hg) emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Krug and Winstanley tested the hypothesis that mercury in Illinois and USA soils is the result of human activities by comparing the rates of atmospheric mercury deposition with soil and Earth crust mercury content. They discovered that, contrary to popular belief, environmentally significant amounts of natural mercury are generally found in soils and quantities of Hg in USA soils are too great to be attributed to anthropogenic atmospheric Hg deposition.

The effort to impose federal regulations to reduce coal-fired power plant mercury emissions is based on the unsubstantiated theory of a direct correlation between power plant locations and high mercury levels.  Krug and Winstanleys paper discredits the environmentalists claim that amounts of mercury in the environment were naturally low before anthropogenic Hg environmental deposition.  Their paper has attracted little major media attention, but was covered in an article by David Wojick appearing in Electricity Daily (, July 14).

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