The European Union is spending in excess of €10,000 million per year cleaning up mercury pollution, according to a new study.
Mercury pollution can arise naturally, although most is generated by burning fossil fuels. Other sources of pollution include high-intensity discharge vehicle lamps and the chlor-alkali industry.
The biggest danger from mercury is that it enters seas and then enters fish. Mercury in the air eventually settles into water or onto land where it can be washed into water. Once deposited, certain microorganisms can change it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish.
The main source of exposure for humans is from eating fish.
According to the research brief, the effects of mercury pollution can be very serious. It has been estimated that between 1.5 and 2 million children in the EU are born each year with MeHg exposures above the safe limit of 0.58µg/g and 200,000 above the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended maximum of 2.5µg/g. Exposure to MeHg affects brain development, resulting in a lower IQ.
This finding was derived from a study of hair samples of child-mother pairs, collected from 17 European countries. The study showed that not every child is at risk the same level of risk. When analyzed per country, children born in Portugal and Spain were the most exposed to MeHg, and Hungary the least.
Not only are the risks from exposure significant for there is also an economic cost. Considerable sums, estimated at over €10,000 million, are spent on trying to clean up mercury pollution by European member states each year.
Meanwhile, the seriousness of mercury pollution has risen high on the world stage. Delegates from around 100 nations gathered in Geneva Switzerland on Sunday January 13, to start the final round of talks to draw up an international treaty on mercury.
The findings have been published in the journal Environmental Health.