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Mercury Levels in Fish Drop as Industrial Emissions Go Down

11 November 2016

US - A new study has found that as industries cut down on their mercury emissions, the mercury concentrations in some fish drop too.

The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, reports that this is the case for prized Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Although global mercury emissions continue to rise due largely to increases in coal burning in Asia, emissions in North America between 1990 and 2007 went down 2.8 per cent per year, according to published studies in 2010 and 2013.

Over a similar period, mercury in north Atlantic waters dropped 4.3 per cent annually. And between 2001 and 2009, mercury in the air above the north Atlantic declined by 20 per cent, or about 2.5 per cent per year.

To see whether the regional emissions reductions were having an effect on fish at the top of the ocean food chain, researchers from Stony Brook University, the University of Massachusetts and Harvard University collected and analyzed tissue samples from nearly 1,300 Atlantic bluefin tuna captured between 2004 and 2012.

Tests for mercury content showed that over this eight-year period, the concentration in the fish dropped an average of 19 per cent. The finding suggests that reductions in mercury emissions could rapidly lead to reduced mercury concentrations in some marine fish, the researchers say.

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