Mankind polluted the Earth's atmosphere with a toxic metal: now we are consuming it as food

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
Mercury emissions have increased significantly over the past 500 years. Source: Getty/collage by OBOZ.UA

Over the past 500 years, human activity has caused the level of mercury pollution in the Earth's atmosphere to increase sevenfold. This toxic substance accumulates in various seafood products consumed by people.

This is stated in a study published in Geophysical Research Letters. Scientists have found that our planet's atmosphere once contained about 580 tons of mercury. However, since about 1500, when humans started to get involved, mercury emissions have increased. As of 2015, this figure has already reached 4,000 tons.

The lead author of the study, Harvard University environmental scientist Elsie M. Sunderland, noted that this work allows scientists to understand how much mercury in the atmosphere was caused by volcanic emissions and how much was due to human emissions.

"(This) sets a baseline for policies aimed at reducing mercury emissions and allows us to understand the full impact of human activity on the environment," Sunderland emphasized.

According to Futurism, mercury, as well as its form called methylmercury, is highly toxic to humans, but its significant amounts in the atmosphere lead to the fact that people consume it with food in one way or another. Most commonly, it is consumed with fish and other seafood, in which this metal is "bioaccumulated."

Scientists know that volcanoes are the largest natural "emitters" of mercury into the atmosphere, but no study has ever been able to measure the exact amount of emissions.

The problem is that a cubic meter of air contains such a small trace of mercury that even satellites cannot detect it.

The authors of the study approached the problem from a different angle. They calculated the ratio in the volcanic plume between mercury and smelly and easily visible sulfur. This allowed them to retrospectively estimate the amount of mercury that was released into the atmosphere during past eruptions.

In this way, they were able to see where and when volcanic mercury emissions occurred.

Using the atmospheric model, the researchers were also able to track the movement of the plumes, confirming that mercury can spread far beyond the release site.

Earlier, OBOZ.UA reported that the Mayan civilization could have destroyed itself because of the thirst for mercury, which was considered a divine metal.

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