Where does all of that mercury come from, amalgam dental fillings or vaccinations? While these are very real sources of mercury contamination, the majority of mercury that we are exposed to gets released into the environment from coal emissions and the metal smelting industry.
But the United States is only a small contributor to environmental mercury emissions. China has long been known to be the booming industrial nation that is most responsible for the immense pollution to aquatic life in the Pacific Ocean. But recently synthesized research reveals that the problem may be bigger than was once believed.
In 2005 a group of scientists led by David Streets sought to determine the amount of mercury that was being released by China's industries. Streets and his team determined that China was responsible for 590 tons of mercury emissions in the year 1999. Nearly half of this was from the metal smelting industry. Metal smelting releases significant amounts of mercury especially when zinc is smelted. Streets had determined that 38% was from coal emissions. During the same year, the U.S. was reported to be responsible for approximately 117 tons of mercury emissions.
Streets' environmental studies had estimated that China was responsible for 767 tons of mercury emissions in 2003 and that there was an alarming rate of increase by nearly 6% each year!
Around this same time, San Francisco-based MD Jane Hightower was battling colleagues, the FDA and government agencies over her discoveries regarding the increasing number of health issues due specifically to mercury poisoning from fish consumption. So few of Hightower's colleagues took her seriously, and many of her fellow doctors mocked her for what she was uncovering. Hightower has since become a central figure in the arena of mercury toxicity. Her discoveries prompted various agencies to take a deeper and more serious look at mercury toxicity in the environment.
In 2002, former 'Dow Chemical' chemist Hans Friedli set out on air expedition to determine if mercury was detectable at high altitudes over the pacific ocean. After all, if mercury from China was polluting the U.S. there should be traces of it in the atmosphere. over the pacific ocean. Friedli and his team of researchers discovered huge plumes of mercury at 20,000 feet altitude, heading directly towards the United States.
The most astounding discovery was made by Dan Jaffe. Jaffe became the first scientist to positively identify that China's mercury emissions were making their way to the U.S. mainland. He estimated that China's total mercury emissions were closer to 1,400 tons per year, nearly double the earlier estimates!
Research suggests that 40% of mercury exposure in the U.S. comes from the consumption of contaminated fish, particularly tuna. At the high rate of China's growing industry, the future of environmental mercury contamination does not look good.
The repetitive loop is that so much of China's industry results in the sale of its goods to the U.S. As long as the U.S. continues to be consumers to China, combined with China's growing industries, you can continue to expect to see mercury contamination increase.
With the growing increase in productivity, an estimated 350 million people will be moving into China's major cities for industrial work. over the next decade. The demand for industry is far exceeding the regulation for the waste being generated from it.
China needs to desperately monitor and regulate their emissions of environmental pollutants such as mercury, but also hydrocarbons and dust. If they don't, it is hard to imagine the potential status of this planet in 50 years.