Environmental costs of mercury pollution

Sci Total Environ. 2006 Sep 1;368(1):352-70. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2005.11.029. Epub 2006 Jan 25.


Mercury (Hg) has been used for millennia in many applications, primarily in artisanal mining and as an electrode in the chlor-alkali industry. It is anthropogenically emitted as a pollutant from coal fired power plants and naturally emitted, primarily from volcanoes. Its unique chemical characteristics enable global atmospheric transport and it is deposited after various processes, ultimately ending up in one of its final sinks, such as incorporated into deep sediment or bioaccumulated, primarily in the marine environment. All forms of Hg have been established as toxic, and there have been no noted biological benefits from the metal. Throughout time, there have been notable incidents of Hg intoxication documented, and the negative health effects have been documented to those chronically or acutely exposed. Today, exposure to Hg is largely diet or occupationally dependent, however, many are exposed to Hg from their amalgam fillings. This paper puts a tentative monetary value on Hg polluted food sources in the Arctic, where local, significant pollution sources are limited, and relates this to costs for strategies avoiding Hg pollution and to remediation costs of contaminated sites in Sweden and Japan. The case studies are compiled to help policy makers and the public to evaluate whether the benefits to the global environment from banning Hg and limiting its initial emission outweigh the benefits from its continued use or lack of control of Hg emissions. The cases we studied are relevant for point pollution sources globally and their remediation costs ranged between 2,500 and 1.1 million US dollars kg(-1) Hg isolated from the biosphere. Therefore, regulations discontinuing mercury uses combined with extensive flue gas cleaning for all power plants and waste incinerators is cost effective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arctic Regions
  • Environmental Exposure / economics*
  • Environmental Exposure / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Environmental Exposure / prevention & control
  • Environmental Pollution / economics*
  • Environmental Pollution / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Environmental Pollution / prevention & control
  • Government Regulation
  • Hazardous Waste
  • Humans
  • Incineration
  • Japan
  • Mercury / economics*
  • Methylmercury Compounds / economics*
  • Power Plants
  • Sweden
  • Waste Management / economics
  • Waste Management / legislation & jurisprudence


  • Hazardous Waste
  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Mercury