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News Picks : Mercury pollution threatens world’s oceans

By: Physics Today
07 August 2014

Nature: Mercury levels in the upper ocean have tripled since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, according to a study published in Nature. Because of mercury’s unique properties, it has come to be used in applications from fossil-fuel electrical power plants to laboratory equipment to cosmetics. However, mercury is highly toxic, and as it leaks into the air and onto the land, it eventually ends up in the oceans, where it can make its way into the food chain. To try to determine how marine mercury pollution levels have changed over time, the researchers collected thousands of water samples from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Because surface water has been more recently exposed to mercury pollution than water deeper down, samples of different depths were compared. However, the researchers found that despite the disturbing rise in mercury pollution, the oceans are not uniformly contaminated. That leads them to believe that efforts to reduce mercury pollution could be effective.

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