We estimate that a cumulative total of 1540 (1060-2800) Gg (gigagrams, 109 grams or thousand 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 were emitted directly into the atmosphere, and 74% of the air emissions were elemental Hg. Cumulatively, about 1070 Gg 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 production (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 4.57 Gg, 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.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry