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Title: Total mercury released to the environment by human activities

Here, we estimate that a cumulative total of 1.5 (1.0–2.8) Tg (teragrams, or million tonnes) of mercury (Hg) have been released by human activities up to 2010, 73% of which was released after 1850. Of this liberated Hg, 470 Gg (gigagrams, or thousand tonnes) was emitted directly into the air, and 74% of the air emissions were elemental Hg. Cumulatively, about 1.1 Tg were released to land and water bodies. Though annual releases of Hg have been relatively stable since 1880 at 8 ± 2 Gg, except for wartime, the distributions of those releases among source types, world regions, and environmental media have changed dramatically. Production of Hg accounts for 27% of cumulative Hg releases to the environment, followed by silver mining (24%) and chemicals manufacturing (12%). North America (30%), Europe (27%), and Asia (16%) have experienced the largest releases. Biogeochemical modeling shows a 3.2-fold increase in the atmospheric burden relative to 1850 and a contemporary atmospheric reservoir of 4570 Mg, both of which agree well with observational constraints. We find that approximately 40% (390 Gg) of the Hg discarded to land and water must be sequestered at contaminated sites to maintain consistency with recent declines in atmospheric Hg concentrations.
ORCiD logo [1] ;  [2] ;  [2] ;  [1] ;  [3] ;  [3] ; ORCiD logo [2]
  1. Argonne National Lab. (ANL), Argonne, IL (United States)
  2. Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA (United States)
  3. Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto, CA (United States)
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Environmental Science and Technology
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 51; Journal Issue: 11; Journal ID: ISSN 0013-936X
American Chemical Society (ACS)
Research Org:
Argonne National Lab. (ANL), Argonne, IL (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI); USDOE
Country of Publication:
United States
OSTI Identifier: