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New Research Has Implications for Discussion of International Mercury Treaty

Published: Friday, December 07, 2012
Last Updated: Friday, December 07, 2012
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In a report published on December 3, 2012, scientists say mercury released into the air and then deposited into the oceans contaminates seafood that is consumed by humans across the globe.

Over the past century, mercury pollution in the surface ocean has more than doubled as a result of past and present human activities such as coal burning, mining, and other industrial processes, say the researchers. The report is presented through nine scientific papers in the journal Environmental Research, and in a companion report, Sources to Seafood: Mercury Pollution in the Marine Environment, by the Dartmouth-led Coastal and Marine Mercury Ecosystem Research Collaborative (C-MERC). The research also examines the effects of mercury on near-shore coastal waters.

“Despite the fact that most people’s mercury exposure is through the consumption of marine fish, this is the first time that scientists have worked together to synthesize what is known about how mercury moves from its various sources to different areas,” says Celia Y. Chen, research professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth.

Chen is one of the researchers whose work is reported in today’s Environmental Research, and she is a lead author of Sources to Seafood. She says about a third of all mercury emissions are associated with certain industrial sources and other human actions that can be controlled. “The good news,” Chen says, “is that the science suggests that if mercury inputs are curtailed, mercury levels in ocean fish will decline and decrease the need for warnings to limit consumption of this globally important food source.”

C-MERC’s findings are especially timely, as the U.S. and other nations prepare for the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in January 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland, which is working to prepare a legally binding instrument to control mercury releases to the environment.

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