A Critical Time for Mercury Science to Inform Global Policy

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski via Unsplash.

Mercury is a global pollutant released into the biosphere by varied human activities including coal combustion, mining, artisanal gold mining, cement production and chemical production. Once released to air, land and water, the addition of carbon atoms to mercury by bacteria results in the production of methylmercury, the toxic form that bioaccumulates in aquatic and terrestrial food chains resulting in elevated exposure to humans and wildlife. 

Global recognition of the mercury contamination problem has resulted in the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which came into force in 2017. The treaty aims to protect human health and the environment from human-generated releases of mercury curtailing its movement and transformations in the biosphere. The 13th International Conference of Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP-13), held in Providence, Rhode Island further summarized cutting edge research and addressed several questions.

A journal article in Environmental Science & Technology by Henrik Selin and coauthors explains the critical connection between mercury science and global policy.

The authors determine that many of the most important factors influencing the fate and effects of mercury and its more toxic form, methylmercury, stem from environmental changes that are much broader in scope than mercury releases alone. In the face of remaining uncertainties, important policy and management actions are needed over the short-term to support the control of mercury releases to land, water and air. These include adequate monitoring and communication on risk from exposure to various forms of inorganic mercury as well as methylmercury from fish and rice consumption. The authors conclude that successful management of global and local mercury pollution will require integration of mercury research and policy in a changing world.

Read the Journal Article