Global and regional trends in mercury emissions and concentrations, 2010–2015

David G. Streets, Hannah M. Horowitz, Zifeng Lu, Leonard Levin, Colin P. Thackray, Elsie M. Sunderland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mercury (Hg) is a naturally occurring element in the Earth's crust. It can be harmful to human health when released in large quantities and/or converted to the neurotoxicant methyl mercury in aquatic ecosystems. This study analyzes global and regional trends in anthropogenic Hg releases to the atmosphere between 2010 and 2015, as well as the associated trends in modeled and measured Hg concentrations at sites around the world. In general, we find that global Hg emissions and concentrations have grown slightly in this period, as declines from the phase-out of commercial Hg use in the developed world have been more than matched by increases in Hg-related activities in the industrializing countries of the world. We estimate that global Hg emissions between 2010 and 2015 have grown at a rate of 1.8%/yr, from 2188 Mg (+44%/-20%, 80% C.I.) in 2010 to 2390 Mg (+42%/-19%, 80% C.I.) in 2015. Regionally, emissions declined over this period in the U.S. (−10%), OECD Europe (−5.8%), and Canada (−3.2%), while they increased in Central America (+5.4%), South Asia (+4.6%), and Eastern Africa (+4.0%). East Asia remained the largest emitting region at 1012 Mg in 2015, though growth there has slowed significantly in recent years. The production of Hg (+7.9%), caustic soda (+6.3%), and cement (+6.3%) showed the highest increases by source type, though artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) was the single largest source of emissions in 2015 (775 Mg). The commercial use of Hg in dental applications (−5.6%) and electrical equipment (−5.2%) continued to decline. These emission trends show a continuation of the regional and sectoral shifts that began in the 1970s, but with a resulting reversal in global trends, because the benefits from Hg phase-out in North America and Europe have been largely realized and industrial growth in developing countries has begun to dominate. The emission trends are in agreement with trends in modeled and measured concentrations, which show small declines in surface air total gaseous Hg concentrations in eastern North America and Western Europe between 2010 and 2015, but slight increases for much of the rest of the world, driven by the continued increases in emissions from Asia and from ASGM. Our results suggest that reductions of Hg in the North Atlantic region have been largely successful, and focus now needs to shift to Asia and to the continued practice of ASGM worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-427
Number of pages11
JournalAtmospheric Environment
StatePublished - Mar 15 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Concentration trends
  • Emission trends
  • Mercury
  • Minamata Convention
  • Small-scale gold mining
  • Source contributions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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