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Title: Historical releases of mercury to air, land, and water from coal combustion

Coal combustion is one of the largest contemporary sources of anthropogenic mercury (Hg). It releases geologically sequestered Hg to the atmosphere, and fly ash can contaminate terrestrial and aquatic systems. We estimate that coal combustion has released a cumulative total of 38.0 (14.8–98.9, 80% C.I.) Gg (gigagrams, 10 9 g or thousand tonnes) of Hg to air, land, and water up to the year 2010, most of which (97%) has occurred since 1850. The rate of release has grown by two orders of magnitude from 0.01 Gg yr -1 in 1850 to 1 Gg yr -1 in 2010. Geographically, Asia and Europe each account for 32% of cumulative releases and an additional 18% is from North America. About 26.3 (10.2–68.3) Gg, 71% of the total, were directly emitted to the atmosphere, mostly from the industrial (45%) and power generation (36%) sectors, while the remainder was disposed of to land and water bodies. While Europe and North America were the major contributing regions until 1950, Asia has surpassed both in recent decades. By 2010, Asia was responsible for 69% of the total releases of Hg from coal combustion to the environment. Control technologies installed on major emitting sources capture mainly particulatemore » and divalent Hg, and therefore the fraction of elemental Hg in emissions from coal combustion has increased over time from 0.46 in 1850 to 0.61 in 2010. About 11.8 (4.6–30.6) Gg of Hg, 31% of the total, have been transferred to land and water bodies through the disposal or utilization of Hg-containing combustion waste and collected fly ash/FGD waste; approximately 8.8 Gg of this Hg have simply been discarded to waste piles or ash ponds or rivers.« less
 [1] ;  [1] ;  [2] ;  [3] ;  [4]
  1. Argonne National Lab. (ANL), Argonne, IL (United States). Energy Systems Division
  2. Electric Power Research Inst. (EPRI), Palo Alto, CA (United States)
  3. Electric Power Research Inst. (EPRI), Palo Alto, CA (United States); NorthPost Partners LLC, San Mateo, CA (United States)
  4. Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA (United States). School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS); Harvard Univ., Boston, MA (United States). Dept. of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
AC02-06CH11357; 10004163; 10005277
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Science of the Total Environment
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 615; Journal Issue: C; Journal ID: ISSN 0048-9697
Research Org:
Argonne National Lab. (ANL), Argonne, IL (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI); Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA (United States)
Country of Publication:
United States
01 COAL, LIGNITE, AND PEAT; 54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; Mercury emissions; Coal combustion; Elemental mercury; Multimedia releases; Coal combustion products
OSTI Identifier: