• Why Is Mercury Measurement Important for the Environment?

Environmental Laboratory

Why Is Mercury Measurement Important for the Environment?

Jul 03 2021

As far back as 2006, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) saw fit to characterise mercury as a chemical of global concern. That’s due to the fact that it is capable of persisting in the environment for significant periods of time, its ability to travel long distances without degrading, its levels of toxicity, its tendency to bioaccumulate in the bodies and ecosystems of animals and its deleterious effects on human health.

For all those reasons, monitoring concentrations of mercury in our atmosphere has been a subject of concern for some time now. Given that almost a third of mercury emissions come from anthropogenic activity – and that up to 60% of the remainder find their origin in manmade sources – it’s vital that industrial plants and companies implement the latest monitoring technologies and abide by primary mercury gas standards to minimise their environmental impact as much as possible.

How mercury affects the natural world

Perhaps the biggest factor in why mercury measurements matter for the environment is the substance’s ability to accumulate in organisms in the natural world. Methylmercury is the most susceptible to this phenomenon and is frequently found in high concentrations among fish, avian and mammal populations. It is most prevalent in larger aquatic species, including predators such as sharks, tuna and swordfish, though it has also been documented in alarming concentrations in otters, minks and bird populations as well.


The challenges that mercury poses to the natural world are manifold. In bird populations, a high concentration of mercury in the bodies of infected species has been found to hamper flying ability and damage the reproductive process in eggs, potentially harming the nervous system as it develops in young birds. Meanwhile, levels of mercury found in whale and seal populations have more than doubled in some parts of the Arctic in the last quarter of a century.

How mercury affects the human race

Perhaps most concerning of all, mercury has been proven to have a particularly damaging impact upon the human body. Given that seafood provides the principal source of protein for approximately one billion people across the globe, measuring its concentration in aquatic environments is of paramount concern in safeguarding human health. The same goes for atmospheric levels of the substance, since prolonged exposure to airborne mercury can have similarly detrimental effects on human health.

These effects are especially potent in young children. Exposure to mercury from a young age can contribute to the contraction of neurological disorders in later life and can hamper mental development as children grow up, possibly affecting motor skills and other physical functioning. Other adverse effects observed in adult humans include damage to the circulatory system, as well as brain or kidney failure. As such, mercury measurement is hugely important for the planet and for every living thing upon it.

Digital Edition

Asian Environmental Technology 26.3 - September 2022

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