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Portland, ME—Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) announces findings from the Western North America Mercury Synthesis, an effort to assess environmental mercury deposition across the western region of the continent. An international team led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and co-organized by BRI, recently documented widespread mercury contamination in air, soil, sediment, plants, fish, and wildlife at various levels across this region. They evaluated potential risk from mercury to human, fish, and wildlife heath, and examined resource management activities that influence this risk.
“Mercury is widespread in the environment, and under certain conditions poses a substantial threat to environmental health and natural resource conservation,” says Collin Eagles-Smith, Ph.D., USGS ecologist and team lead.
The research team gathered decades of mercury data to examine patterns of mercury and methylmercury in numerous components of the western landscape. The results show where mercury occurs in western North America, how it moves through the environment, and the processes that influence its movement and transfer to aquatic food chains.
“This integrated effort provides critical information on mercury pathways to humans and wildlife that government regulators, lawmakers, and the public can use to make decisions,” says David Evers, Ph.D., executive director and chief scientist of Biodiversity Research Institute and co-organizer of the project. “The Western mercury synthesis builds upon our Northeastern and Great Lakes regional efforts through which we collected and analyzed environmental mercury data that were often separated by sample type.” The initiative for the western region of the continent continues BRI’s efforts to assess environmental mercury deposition across North America in the Institute’s series of studies called Mercury Connections.
Complete findings for the Western North America Mercury Synthesis (the Western Synthesis) have been published in a 2016 special issue of Science of The Total Environment: Mercury in Western North America—Spatiotemporal Patterns, Biogeochemistry, Bioaccumulation, and Risks. Dr. Evers is co-author on five out of the 17 papers published in this Virtual Special Issue (available only online). All of the papers will also be published in the October issue of the journal.
Papers co-authored by Dr. Evers include:
Summary of Key Findings and Implications (related to fish and wildlife) include:
Effective management of environmental health risks associated with mercury goes beyond controlling sources of inorganic mercury, and would be improved with tools for controlling the production of methylmercury and its introduction to animal and human food sources
The Western Synthesis results suggest that effective management of environmental health risks associated with mercury goes beyond controlling sources of inorganic mercury, and could be improved by development of tools to control the production of methylmercury and its bioaccumulation through the food web, ultimately affecting animals and humans.
For a complete summary of the Western Synthesis results, visit: USGS Environmental Health Science Feature
This body of work was conducted as part of the Western North America Mercury Synthesis Working Group and supported by the USGS John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis. The Working Group is comprised of partners from other U.S. and Canadian federal, state, and provincial agencies, as well as academic institutions and non-governmental organizations. Primary funding support was provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with additional support from the individual authors’ organizations.
Biodiversity Research Institute, headquartered in Portland, Maine, is a nonprofit ecological research group whose mission is to assess emerging threats to wildlife and ecosystems through collaborative research, and to use scientific findings to advance environmental awareness and inform decision makers. BRI supports ten research programs within three research centers including the Center for Mercury Studies, which was initiated in 2011.
BRI is assisting in multiple ways with the ratification and implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury—a globally binding agreement facilitated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). BRI is a co-lead of UNEP’s Mercury Air Transport and Fate Research Partnership Area and a member of the Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) Partnership Area. BRI is also an Executing Agency of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and serves as an international advisor for the United Nations Development Program and United Nations Environment Programme to help coordinate and facilitate enabling activities to conduct Minamata Initial Assessments for more than 30 countries. Visit www.briloon.org/mercury for more information.
The U.S. Geological Survey provides science about the natural hazards that threaten lives and livelihoods; the water, energy, minerals, and other natural resources we rely on; the health of our ecosystems and environment; and the impacts of climate and land-use change. Our scientists develop new methods and tools to supply timely, relevant, and useful information about the Earth and its processes.
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