New ”fingerprinting” method tracks mercury emissions from coalOctober 9th, 2008 - 2:41 pm ICT by ANI
Washington, Oct 9 (ANI): University of Michigan researchers have developed a new tool that uses natural “fingerprints” in coal to track down sources of mercury emissions polluting the environment.
Mercury is a naturally occurring element, but some 2000 tons of it enter the environment each year from human-generated sources such as incinerators, chlorine-producing plants and coal-burning power plants.
Mercury is deposited onto land or into water, where microorganisms convert some of it to methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish and the animals that eat them.
In wildlife, exposure to methylmercury can interfere with reproduction, growth, development and behavior and may even cause death.
Effects on humans include damage to the central nervous system, heart and immune system. The developing brains of young and unborn children are especially vulnerable.
“There has been a lot of controversy about how much mercury is coming from different types of industrial activities, compared to natural sources, but it has been difficult to figure out the relative contributions,” said co-author Joel Blum, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Geological Sciences and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
For the past eight years, Blum and co-workers have been trying to develop a way of reading mercury fingerprints in coal and other sources of mercury.
The hope was that they could then find those same fingerprints in soil and water bodies, much as a detective matches a suspect’’s fingerprints to those found at a crime scene, and use them to figure out exactly what the sources of mercury pollution are in certain areas.
“For some time, we weren”t sure that it was going to be technically possible, but now we”ve cracked that nut and have shown significant differences not only between mercury from coal and, say, metallic forms of mercury that are used in industry, but also between different coal deposits,” Blum said.
The fingerprinting technique relies on a natural phenomenon called isotopic fractionation, in which different isotopes of mercury react to form new compounds at slightly different rates.
Combining mass-dependent and mass-independent isotope signals, the researchers created a powerful fingerprinting tool.
“Scientists have models and other ways of estimating how much mercury will be deposited locally, but we may, for the first time, be able to directly differentiate between mercury coming from local plants and mercury that has been transported longer distances,” said Blum.
In a project already underway, Blum’’s research group hopes to pinpoint which of the many mercury sources in the San Francisco Bay area are contributing most to the contamination of fish and wildlife. (ANI)
- How mercury pollution affects the polar bear - Dec 09, 2009
- 'Fingerprinting' reveals fate of mercury in Arctic snow - Feb 11, 2010
- Rising mercury levels threaten eco-system - Apr 20, 2011
- Exposure to mercury pollution causes homosexuality in birds - Dec 01, 2010
- Why presence of mercury in seawater is more dangerous - Jun 28, 2010
- New ultra-sensitive device sniffs out toxic metals - Sep 13, 2012
- Saline aquifers can store century's worth of CO2 emissions - Mar 22, 2012
- How mercury makes its way into the ocean and contaminates seafood - May 03, 2009
- How bacteria can clear mercury pollution in waterways - Oct 02, 2009
- Fertiliser use spikes greenhouse gas - Apr 03, 2012
- Pollution turns male birds gay - Dec 02, 2010
- Rare sulphur could rewrite theories of early Earth - Feb 26, 2011
- Mercury is latest and deadlier threat to environment - Jan 08, 2009
- Natural organic matter plays key role in making mercury toxic to living creatures - Aug 19, 2009
- Dead Sea air filled with high levels of oxidized Mercury - Nov 30, 2010
Tags: central nervous system, chlorine, coal burning power plants, coal deposits, crime scene, evolutionary biology, fingerprints, geological sciences, joel blum, macarthur, mercury emissions, mercury pollution, michigan researchers, microorganisms, natural sources, relative contributions, soil and water, unborn children, water bodies, wildlife exposure