EEA report on mercury pollution

25 September 2018

Article: 52/3805

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has published a report describing the problem of mercury pollution and the challenges in addressing the issue globally.

The report states that mercury presents the biggest risk in rivers, lakes and oceans where it takes a highly toxic form that is absorbed by animals, including fish. The most recent monitoring data shows that nearly 46,000 surface water bodies in the EU, out of approximately 111,000, are not meeting mercury levels set to protect fish-eating birds and mammals. Humans become exposed to mercury mainly when they eat large predator fish, such as tuna or monkfish, which have been eating smaller fish with mercury in their bodies.

The researchers found that current emissions of mercury in Europe are mostly limited to combustion of solid fuels, including coal, lignite and wood. Globally, mercury emissions are much higher due to emissions from additional sources such as small-scale gold mining and industrial processes.

The report explains that one of the main problems with mercury is its persistency; once it is released into the environment, for example through coal burning, mercury can circulate through air, land, water and animals for thousands of years. The current levels of mercury in the atmosphere are up to 500% above natural levels. In the oceans, the concentrations of mercury are about 200% above natural levels.

The report is available on the European Environment Agency website

Source: EEA, 19 September 2018