Global and local impacts of delayed mercury mitigation efforts

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Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering


Mercury (Hg) is emitted to air by natural and anthropogenic sources, transports and deposits globally, and bioaccumulates to toxic levels in food webs. It is addressed under the global 2017 Minamata Convention, for which periodic effectiveness evaluation is required. Previous analyses have estimated the impact of different regulatory strategies for future mercury deposition. However, analyses using atmospheric models traditionally hold legacy emissions (recycling of previously deposited Hg) constant, and do not account for their possible future growth. Here, using an integrated modeling approach, we investigate how delays in implementing emissions reductions and the associated growing legacy reservoir affect deposition fluxes to ecosystems in different global regions. Assuming nearly constant yearly emissions relative to 2010, each 5-year delay in peak emissions defers by additional extra ca. 4 years the return to year 2010 global deposition. On a global average, each 5-year delay leads to a 14% decrease in policy impacts on local-scale Hg deposition. We also investigate the response of fish contamination in remote lakes to delayed action. We quantify the consequences of delay for limiting the Hg burden of future generations and show that traditional analyses of policy impacts provide best-case estimates.

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Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.8b04542

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Environmental science & technology