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Tracing the source of mercury pollution


Mercury ic called a global pollutant. Humans pump thousands of tons of vapor from the metallic element mercury into the atmosphere each year. According to EPA the largest manmade source of mercury emissions in the U.S. comes from coal-burning power plants. It is the chemical form of mercury released into the atmosphere that dictates whether it remains suspended for long periods and therefore can travel even across continents or gets removed from the atmosphere by precipitation. Therefore it is an ongoing discussion, about where that mercury goes when it’s released from a power plant smokestack.

The new study:
Now a research group from the University of Michigan have started to crack the puzzle of how much is deposited nearby, close to the plant, and how much goes into what is called the global pool of mercury.

Joel Blum and his colleagues, using the isotopic pattern of mercury as a fingerprint were able to track mercury emissions from a power plant in Florida... and they found that a high proportion of the mercury ended up nearby.
The team took the fingerprint of mercury isotope ratios in coal from the regions in Kentucky and West Virginia that supply the Florida power plant. They further measured rainfall at sites near the plant and sites far away from the plant  for a month. By comparing the fingerprints of mercury from the coal and the rainfall it turned out that the mercury fingerprint in those rainfall samples near the plant was very different from the mercury coming from other sources from across the Gulf of Mexico. In essence, the results basically indicated that a large portion of the mercury is being deposited locally from a particular power plant which strengthens the argument that mercury emissions from power plants in the United States should be regulated in order to reduce mercury pollution across the US.

A lot of questions remain to be solved to make this new technique an informative tool. Does the mercury fingerprint from coal show up unaltered in the stack gases? Can the fingerprints from other power plants really be distinguished ? Can the amount of mercury coming from a particular source be quantitatively estimated ? More work seems to be necessary in order to develop this new method.
Michael Sperling

The new study:

Laura S. Sherman, Joel D. Blum, Gerald J. Keeler, Jason D. Demers, J. Timothy Dvonch, Investigation of Local Mercury Deposition from a Coal-Fired Power Plant Using Mercury Isotopes, Environ. Sci. Technol., Publication Date (Web): November 21, 2011. DOI: 10.1021/es202793c

Related studies (newest first):

L. Lefticariu, J.D. Blum, J. D. Gleason, Mercury isotopic evidence for multiple mercury sources in coal from the Illinois Basin, Environ. Sci. Technol., 45/4 (2011) 1724–1729. doi: 10.1021/es102875n

N. Estrade, J. Carignan, O.F.X. Donard, Isotope tracing of atmospheric mercury sources in an urban area of northeastern France, Environ. Sci. Technol., 44/16 (2010) 6062–6067. DOI: 10.1021/es100674a

W. Zheng, H. Hintelmann, Isotope fractionation of mercury during its photochemical reduction by low-molecular-weight organic compounds, J. Phys. Chem. A, 114/12 (2010) 4246–4253. doi: 10.1021/jp9111348

L.E. Gratz, G.J. Keeler, J.D. Blum, L.S. Sherman, Isotopic composition and fractionation of mercury in Great Lakes precipitation and ambient air, Environ. Sci. Technol., 44 (2010) 7764–7770. doi: 10.1021/es100383w

T. Zambardi, J.E. Sonke, J.P. Toutain, F. Sortino, H. Shinohara, Mercury emissions and stable isotopic compositions at Vulcano Island (Italy), Earth. Planet. Sci. Lett., 277 (2009) 236–243. doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2008.10.023

N. Estrade, J. Carignan, J.E. Sonke, O.F.X. Donard, Mercury isotope fractionation during liquid-vapor evaporation experiments, Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 73 (2009) 2693–2711. doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2009.01.024

B.A. Bergquist, J.D. Blum, The odds and evens of mercury isotopes: Applications of mass-dependent and mass-independent isotope fractionation, Elements, 5 (2009) 353–357. doi: 10.2113/gselements.5.6.353

N. Zheng, H. Hintelmann, Mercury isotope fractionation during photoreduction in natural water is controlled by its Hg/DOC ratio, Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 73 (2009) 6704–6715. doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2009.08.016

D. Foucher, N. Ogrinc, H. Hintelmann, Tracing mercury contamination from the Idrija mining region (Slovenia) to the Gulf of Trieste using Hg isotope ratio measurements, Environ. Sci. Technol., 43/1 (2009) 33–39. doi: 10.1021/es801772b

A. Biswas, J.D. Blum, B.A. Bergquist, G.J. Keeler, X. Zhouqing, Natural mercury isotope variation in coal deposits and organic soils, Environ. Sci. Technol., 42/22 (2008) 8303–8309. doi: 10.1021/es801444b

B.A. Bergquist, J.D. Blum, Mass-dependent and mass-independent fractionation of Hg isotopes by photo-reduction in aquatic systems, Science, 318/5849 (2007) 417–420. doi: 10.1126/science.1148050

W. Zheng, D. Foucher, H. Hintelmann, Mercury isotope fractionation during volatilization of Hg(0) from solution into the gas phase, J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 22 (2007) 1097–1104. doi: 10.1039/b705677j

J.D. Blum, B.A. Bergquist, Reporting the variations in the natural isotopic composition of mercury, Anal. Bioanal. Chem., 388/2 (2007) 353–359. doi: 10.1007/s00216-007-1236-9

S. Lindberg, R. Bullock, R. Ebinghaus, D. Engstrom, X. Feng, W. Fitzgerald, N. Pirrone, E. Prestbo, C. Seigneur, A synthesis of progress and uncertainties in attributing the sources of mercury in deposition, Ambio 36/1 (2007) 19–32. doi: 10.1079/0044-7447(2007)36[19:ASOPAU]2.0.CO;2

K. Lohman, C. Seigneur, E. Edgerton, J. Jansen, Modeling mercury in power plant plumes, Environ. Sci. Technol., 40 (2006) 3848–3854. doi: 10.1021/es051556v

G.J. Keeler, M.S. Landis, G.A. Norris, E.M. Christianson, J.R. Dvonch, Sources of mercury wet deposition in eastern Ohio, USA, Environ. Sci. Technol., 40 (2006) 5874–5881. doi: 10.1021/es060377q

A. Kolker, C.L. Senior, J.C. Quick, Mercury in coal and the impact of coal quality on mercury emissions from combustion systems,  Appl. Geochem., 21 (2006) 1821–1836. doi: 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2006.08.001

J.T. Dvonch, Gerald J. Keeler, Frank J. Marsik, The Influence of Meteorological Conditions on the Wet Deposition of Mercury in Southern Florida, J. Appl. Meteor., 44 (2005) 1421–1435. doi: 10.1175/JAM2272.1

J.R. Graney, J.T. Dvonch, G.J. Keeler, Use of multi-element tracers to source apportion mercury in south Florida aerosols, Atmos. Environ., 38/12 (2004) 1715– 1726. doi:  10.1016/j.atmosenv.2003.12.018

J.T. Dvonch, J.R. Graney, G.J. Keeler, R.K. Stevens, Use of elemental tracers to source apportion mercury in south Florida precipitation, Environ. Sci. Technol., 33 (1999) 4522–4527. doi: 10.1021/es9903678

B. Toole-O’Neil, S.J. Tewalt, R.B. Finkelman, D.J. Akers, Mercury concentration in coal -- unraveling the puzzle, Fuel, 78 (1999) 47–54. doi: 10.1016/S0016-2361(98)00112-4

Related information:
 US EPA: Clean Air Interstate Rule
 US EPA: Regulatory Impact Analysis of the Final Clean Air Mercury Rule
 US EPA: Mercury Study Report to Congress - Vol. II - An Inventory of Anthropogenic Mercury Emissions in the United States
 US EPA: Mercury Study Report to Congress - Vol. III - Fate and Transport of Mercury in the Environment
 US EPA - Mercury Study Report to Congress - Vol. IV - An Assessment of Exposure to Mercury in the United States
 US EPA: Mercury Study Report to Congress - Vol. V - Health Effects of Mercury and Mercury Compounds
 US EPA: Mercury Study Report to Congress - Vol. VI - An Ecological Assessment for Anthropogenic Mercury Emissions in the United States
 US EPA: Mercury Study Report to Congress . Vol. VII - Characterization of Human Health and Wildlife Risks from Mercury Exposure in the United States
 US EPA: Mercury Study Report to Congress - Vol. 8 - An Evaluation of Mercury Control Technology and Costs
USGS: Fact Sheet: Glacial Ice Cores Reveal A Record of Natural and Anthropogenic Atmospheric Mercury Deposition for the Last 270 Years
 UNEP: Action on Heavy Metals Among Key Decisions at United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Council Meeting
 North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation: North American Power Plant Emissions
 American Council on Science and Health, September 9, 2005: Regulating Mercury Emissions from Power Plants: Will It Protect Our Health?
 EWG Report, November 1999: An Analysis of Mercury Pollution from Coal-Burning Power Plants
 National Wildlife Foundation (NWF). September 1999. (Ann Arbor,MI:NWF): Clean the Rain, Clean the Lakes: Mercury in Rain is Polluting the Great Lakes
 Edison Electric Institute (EEI): Mercury

Related EVISA Resources

Link database: Environmental cycling of mercury
Link database: Environmental mercury pollution

Related EVISA News

December 19, 2011: Anthropogenic Mercury Releases Into the Atmosphere from Ancient to Modern Time
October 15, 2011, Mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region -- nearly forgotten, but not gone
June 17, 2009: 'Surprisingly High Levels' of Methylmercury Contamination found in Groundwater
May 3, 2009: Ocean mercury on the rise
February 18, 2007: New research results suggest that mercury hotspots in the northeastern US are home made
October 9, 2006: Linking atmospheric mercury to methylmercury in fish
September 13, 2005: Regulating Mercury Emissions from Power Plants: Will It Protect Our Health?
April 3, 2005: Dissension on the best way to fight mercury pollution

last time modified: May 17, 2024


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