Quantcast

Burning Less Coal = 19% Less Mercury in the Tuna You Eat

Animals

I couldn't, post-election, muster a plausibly big enough piece of good news to warrant a Thanksgiving blog—but then this morning one arrived. In an astonishingly short eight years, as a result of tougher emission rules on power plants and a declining use of coal, concentrations of mercury in Atlantic Bluefin tuna, the sushi sort, dropped by 19 percent.

There are similar findings for bluefish, but tuna are much longer lived, so the results are extremely surprising—concentrations of mercury in even much older tuna fell at the same or faster rate as mercury concentrations in sea water, suggesting that fisheries contamination can be reversed far more quickly than anyone had dreamed.

Bluefin tuna are still not healthy for women of child-bearing age—and most of the tuna which had led more than 10 percent of U.S. women having unhealthy mercury in their blood is not from the Atlantic ocean, which is healing, but from the Pacific, where coal consumption and mercury loading remains unabated.

Mercury contamination is a serious public health issue. In the U.S. alone, hundreds of thousands of newborns are at risk of lower IQ's from the mercury burden they are born with. Concentrations of mercury have been coming down as a result of broad public education and advisories on which fish to avoid. Overall, mercury emissions in the U.S. have declined sharply as a result of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation.

Now the news from the North Atlantic suggests that globally the epidemic of mercury poisoning can be reversed far more rapidly than scientists had imagined. Requiring the clean up of coal power plant emissions in Asia, the globe's largest remaining source of mercury pollution, will begin to allow Pacific ocean fisheries to recover as well. It's important that countries considering the economics of building coal factor in the almost certain necessity to control for mercury—and when they do, they are likely to find that coal power is no longer economically competitive, so that not only will current plants reduce their emissions, but fewer new ones will make any kind of economic sense—which will be wonderful news for the communities where coal is mined and burned, as well as the climate.

More fundamentally, the North Atlantic story goes at the heart of the popular version of climate denialism—which is the initially plausible notion that the world is so large and each human so small, that it's just not likely that anything each of us does can really change the climate—or poison the oceans. And if we have, it's so terrifying that we really don't believe we can do anything about it. Isn't it too late?

What the declining mercury level in Bluefin tuna shows is that we can—and have—had enormous impacts on the natural world, but that we can, and are, reversing those impacts. Nature, if we stop abusing her, can heal herself not in centuries or even decades, but mere years—even the length of the U.S. president's term.

This is a good news story we need to tell everyone.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Mike Mozart / Flicker / CC BY 2.0

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder on Friday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found trace amounts of asbestos in one of its bottles.

Read More Show Less
Electric towers during golden hour. Pixabay / Pexels

An international group of scientists released a report today detailing how the fossil fuel industry actively campaigned to sow doubt about the climate crisis and what steps need to be taken to undo the damage, as the Los Angeles Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Justin Trudeau delivers remarks during an election rally in Markham, Ontario, Canada, on Sept. 15. Creative Touch Imaging Ltd. / NurPhoto via Getty Images

By Chloe Farand for Climate Home News

Canadians are voting on Monday in an election observers say will define the country's climate future.

Read More Show Less
Activists Greta Thunberg (2ndL), Iris Duquesne(C), and Alexandria Villaseñor (3rd R) attend a press conference where 16 children present their official human rights complaint on the climate crisis to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child at the UNICEF Building on Sept. 23 in NYC. KENA BETANCUR / AFP / Getty Images

By Jessica Taft

Fifteen kids from a dozen countries, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, recently brought a formal complaint to the United Nations. They're arguing that climate change violates children's rights as guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a global agreement.

Read More Show Less
Cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on could fall heavily on the public.
Susan Vineyard / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Justin Mikulka

Increasingly, U.S. shale firms appear unable to pay back investors for the money borrowed to fuel the last decade of the fracking boom. In a similar vein, those companies also seem poised to stiff the public on cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Blue tarps given out by FEMA cover several roofs two years after Hurricane Maria affected the island in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 18. RICARDO ARDUENGO / AFP / Getty Images

Top officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed to lawmakers last week that they knowingly — and illegally — stalled hurricane aid to Puerto Rico.

Read More Show Less
Actress Jane Fonda (C) and actor Sam Waterston (L) participate in a protest in front of the U.S. Capitol during a "Fire Drill Fridays" climate change protest and rally on Capitol Hill, Oct. 18. Mark Wilson / Getty Images News

It appears Jane Fonda is good for her word. The actress and political activist said she would hold demonstrations on Capitol Hill every Friday through January to demand action on the climate crisis. Sure enough, Fonda was arrested for demonstrating a second Friday in a row Oct. 18, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Only this time, her Grace and Frankie co-star Sam Waterston joined her.

Read More Show Less
Visitors look at the Aletsch glacier above Bettmeralp, in the Swiss Alps, on Oct. 1. The mighty Aletsch — the largest glacier in the Alps — could completely disappear by the end of this century if nothing is done to rein in climate change, a study showed on Sept. 12. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP via Getty Images

Switzerland's two Green parties made historic gains in the country's parliamentary elections Sunday, according to projections based on preliminary results reported by The New York Times.

Read More Show Less