Indianapolis, St. Louis, Detroit, Buffalo, Richmond and Providence – cities scattered across the eastern half of the United States – have something in common, all have coal-fired power plants.
Researchers in Indiana say they have conducted the first study measuring mercury levels in soil near coal-fired U.S. power plants. Scientists at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis found measurable amounts of the mercury emitted by coal-fired power plants is deposited in local soil, a UI release said Tuesday.
While previous research on the spread of environmental mercury has focused on waterways, the new study looked at land by taking soil samples and detecting hot spots of mercury contamination in central Indiana specifically tied to local coal-fired power plants. Mercury-contaminated soil can be blown long distances by winds, the researchers said.
“As we gain a better understanding of the deposition and risk patterns of mercury from using dirty coal as our primary energy source in the Midwest, we hopefully will be better able to stop or decrease the emission of this neurotoxin and halt the damage it is causing humans,” said senior author Gabriel M. Filippelli, professor of earth sciences at IUPUI.
In a November 2010 publication, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported that mercury concentrations in Indiana watersheds “routinely exceeded criteria protective of humans and commonly exceeded criteria protective of wildlife.” One in seven fish in Indiana contain mercury in levels not fit for human consumption.
Mercury from coal-fired power plants has been found in the ice at the North and the South Poles, so the fact that these noxious emissions are swept far away to other areas or even continents, with global environmental impact, is well known. What had not been previously shown is the impact of the mercury on the environments in cities, suburbs and rural areas near specific coal-burning power plants. (IUPUI)
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