A report from the United Nations has concluded that increases in mercury exposure may be threatening the health and environment of developing countries.
The report, published by the U.N. Environment Program (Unep), blames increases in mining and coal burning in developing nations for the rising mercury levels that could be dangerous. The report is expected to play a big role in an upcoming U.N. meeting that will discuss ways to decrease mercury emissions by 2015.
The UN report, which was titled Global Mercury Assessment 2013, says that Southeast Asia emits the most mercury of any region globally. In fact, according to the report, Southeast Asia emitted almost half of the world’s mercury. The assessment blames these high mercury levels on the extremely rapid growth of industrialism in the region.
In addition to Southeast Asia, high mercury emissions were found in Asia, Africa, and South American mostly due to small-scale gold mining. The mercury levels given off from these regions has doubled since 2005.
The report states that globally, approximately 1,960 tons of mercury wad added to the air in 2010 as a result of human activities. Although this may seem like a lot, the figure has been relatively stable since 1990, the report says.
Although there is a lot of room for improvement, the report points out that the current mercury levels are much better than they used to be. In the 1960s, when mercury was very much in demand, global mercury emission reached 9,000 tons. More recently, the demand for mercury has began to decrease.
The report’s main focus isn’t on how high the mercury levels are, but rather the what is refers to as large shifts in regional patterns. The assessment points out that, in general, developing areas such as Southeast Asia, Africa, and South American are beginning to experience high mercury levels for the first time while levels are steadily decreasing in North America and Europe.
Mercury is found in the environment in cinnabar deposits and in many types of rock, including limestone and coal. The element, which is a heavy metal with a silver color, is liquid at room temperature and evaporates readily air.
Mercury is most often released into the atmosphere through various industries including mining, metal and cement making, and the burning of fossil fuels. The element can move across long distances though the air, water, soil, and even living beings. It can also remain is the environment for an extend period of time.
According to the World Health Organization, mercury is especially harmful to the development unborn child and young infants. It has been found to have harmful effects on the kidneys, lungs, nervous tissue, and more.
Mercury poses a serious risk to global health. The UN has stated that the risk of mercury emissions and their adverse effects are understood by governments across the globe.