Environmental Science

Historic Hg Legacy

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Science  20 Sep 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6152, pp. 1321
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6152.1321-c
CREDIT: CHRIS ECKLEY

Industrial operations such as metal smelters and coal-burning power plants release mercury (Hg) into the atmosphere, where it can remain for up to 2 years before it is deposited. Recent efforts to regulate these emissions have led to the Minamata Convention, an international treaty due to be signed in October 2013, which aims to address the toxic effects of mercury in the environment. Yet many aspects of the emission and dispersal of mercury remain unclear. Eckley et al. have undertaken a detailed study of local ground-level air mercury concentrations near the Flin Flon, Manitoba, copper smelter. Until its closure in 2010, this was Canada's largest point source of mercury emissions. The closure provided the opportunity to study atmospheric mercury concentrations before and after the shutdown of a large point source. Although atmospheric mercury concentrations fell after the closure, they remained higher than at other Canadian monitoring stations, both in the atmosphere and in precipitation. Surface-to-air flux from local polluted soils is thus the most likely source of the elevated atmospheric mercury concentrations after closure.

Environ. Sci. Technol. 10.1021/es401352n (2013).

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