A new study from the University of Nevada, Reno, is expected to contribute to the global fight against mercury pollution, a serious threat to the health of people and wildlife.
The researchers have confirmed that new technologies, including some developed at the university, measure mercury pollution more accurately than old systems that have been used for years. In fact, the researchers found that the old technology reduced mercury levels by 80%.
The project was led by two researchers from the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources, Sarrah Dunham-Cheatham and Mae Gustin. Dunham-Cheatham is a research assistant professor and director of the Core Analytical Laboratory, a research facility at the university operated by the College’s Experiment Station and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Gustin is a professor of environmental science in the College’s Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Science. Both conduct research as part of the College’s Experiment Station unit.
Want new news?
Write to Technology Networks‘ a daily newsletter, delivering scientific news straight to your inbox every day.
Sign up for FREE
Seth Lyman, a researcher and assistant professor at Utah State University who completed his doctoral studies in environmental sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno, is the third author of a study published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment.
The risk of mercury pollution is so great that 139 countries have signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a ten-year United Nations initiative to reduce mercury emissions. Mercury can cause severe neurological damage and other health effects. Babies and unborn children are at greatest risk.
“Every time a person breathes, they are breathing mercury,” says Dunham-Cheatham, as she explains how mercury enters the atmosphere from small gold mines, coal plants, cement manufacturers and other industrial operations. taken from all over the world.
When mercury is taken from the atmosphere, it is deposited in the soil and water, where it enters the food. Fish contaminated with mercury pose a risk to human health. The same is true of mercury rice. High levels of mercury affect the reproduction of birds and other wildlife and are a silent killer.
Despite widespread awareness of the environmental risks, the lack of accurate technology to measure mercury emissions has hindered efforts to establish international standards to reduce the risk.
Gustin says he began raising questions more than 15 years ago in the scientific community about the accuracy of mercury measurements made with the technology available at the time. His questions were strongly disputed by scientists who made large investments – financial and professional – in the old methods that have been used since the mid-1990s.
But as evidence of the failure of old systems has piled up, Gustin says a growing consensus of researchers has come to believe that more accurate measurement technology is needed.
In 2013, Gustin and Jiaoyan Huang – at the time, a post-doctoral student at the university and now a member of the ventilation team with Sonoma Technology – began a decade of work to develop a specific technology.
Gustin says: “It takes a lot of effort to change this theory and create new ideas.”
The researchers tested four air-testing systems that use new measurement technology, along with one of the older devices, for a year at the University’s Valley Road Greenhouse Complex, which is part of the Experiment Station. In a paper published this month, researchers report that the new system, which relies on nylon or polyethersulfone membranes to capture airborne mercury, is more accurate than older systems. One type of technology used in the two new systems tested was developed by a team led by Gustin at the University of Nevada, Reno; The technology used in two other new systems was developed at Utah State University.
This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Now, Gustin says researchers are fine-tuning the materials used to make the membranes used in the new measuring system.
“Members are easy to collect and analyze and are easily deployed,” he says. “This could be a useful method for many researchers.
“These new samplers have been sent for testing in more than a dozen locations around the world – from Peavine Peak outside Reno to Svalbard in northern Norway, and from Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean to the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Utah – to collect information in collaboration with international scientists.
“This is how science changes,” Gustin said. “You create something and, if it’s good, others try it and ride it.”
Dunham-Cheatham and Gustin have received $30,000 from the NSF to hold a conference at the camp in October where about 30 scientists from around the world working on mercury measurements will gather to discuss their findings and plan a way forward.
References: Dunham-Cheatham SM, Lyman S, Gustin MS. Comparison and ranking of methods for ambient reactive mercury quantification. Sci. Total Environ. 2023;856:159219. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.159219
This article has been reprinted from the following materials. Note: items may have been edited for length and content. For more information, refer to the source cited.