Coal’s Toxic Legacy, Mercury Poisons the Arctic

January 7, 2015

One of the cruel ironies of the fossil fuel addiction is that the most severe impacts of coal and oil burning land on those who are least responsible for fuel consumption.

Its one of the factors that makes it so easy and cost free for climate denying politicians in the US and elsewhere to operate.
Mercury has long been known as a dangerous environmental contaminant, but many don’t know that it comes in large part from burning coal and oil, and an awful lot of it is ending up in the supposedly pristine Arctic. This video from the Scandinavian Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) covers the issue.


Studies, such as the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) 2011 Assessment of Mercury in the Arctic, has shown that toxic mercury levels found in Arctic wildlife is high above natural levels, and the levels are rising at a disturbing rate.

Mercury is a highly toxic element, that is present in liquid form at standard temperatures. The element is absorbed and accumulated in the food chain, causing problems for top-level predators and humans. Among the symptoms for mercury poisoning is birth defects and neurological damage.

Although mercury is present in our environment, most of the rising levels are attributed to mining and burning of coal and oil. Pollution is occurring world-wide and transported by winds and ocean currents to the Arctic.


6 Responses to “Coal’s Toxic Legacy, Mercury Poisons the Arctic”

  1. NICE Peter. Thanks for getting the word out. Nice to see AMAP material; a high standard.

  2. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    I worked out that there’s enough mercury in one adult bigeye tuna to make 124 compact fluorescent lamps:

    1 CFL contains about 1mg mercury.

    Mean concentration of mercury in bigeye tuna: 0.689 ppm
    0.689µg/g = 0.689 mg/kg
    Therefore 1mg Hg in 1.45 kg meat
    In a 180kg fish, that is 180/1.45 = 124.1mg = 124 CFLs

    Sharks and swordfish contain even more – about 1mg per kilo.

    The saying, “Mad as a hatter” derived from traditional hatters’ use of mercury, needs bringing up to date to “Mad as a sushi lover”.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      LMAO on “Mad as a sushi lover”. You beat me to the punch. I have a friend who is is seriously addicted to sushi, even though he can’t really afford it (I have watched him blow nearly $100 on LUNCH). I have been telling him kiddingly for years that he was probably going to end up suffering from mercury poisoning if he kept it up. (He is already a bit “goofy”—-a retired Navy chief). He paid little attention until I mentioned Minamata Disease and the Dancing Cats of Minamata and got him to watch some Youtube clips.

      I annoy him on occasion when he’s eating sushi by twitching and shaking a bit—-hasn’t stopped him though. Actually, the way the populations of bluefin and bigeye (and swordfish and sharks) are collapsing due to overfishing, only rich Republicans will be able to afford sushi, and they already suffer from “mental Minamata”.

      (And that figure for bigeye tuna of 0.689µg/g is conservative—I’ve seen figures double that. In my part of the country, some rivers (like the Shenandoah) are so polluted with industrial mercury and PCB’s that we are told to eat little or no fish from them).

      • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

        hehe… Love the twitching, you may have touched a nerve there somewhere!
        Yes, I remember you showing me the scary-as-hell Minamata video.
        If more people understand the risks they are facing, then tuna and other fish might have a chance at recovery too.

  3. rayduray Says:

    Bloomberg GRID has a coal related item up today:

    In brief:

    “If nations want even a 50 percent chance of avoiding dangerous global warming, they’ll need to keep more than 80 percent of current coal reserves in the ground. And in the United States, more than 90 percent of coal reserves would need to stay buried, according to a new study from University College London.”

  4. rayduray Says:

    From Lima, Peru, a press conference on Economy vs. Ecology. I think this is a particularly cogent and thoughtful attack on the “business as usual” model.

    YouTube Title: “Rethinking Economics in the Age of Climate Change”

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