Mercury Emissions in Seafood – It's Worse Than We Thought

A federal study just released documents a serious link between global emissions of mercury and seafood contamination.

The U.S. Geological Survey study(pdf) outlines the formation in the north Pacific Ocean of methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury that rapidly accumulates in the food chain to levels that can create serious health issues for people who eat seafood.

Scientists have known about the link between mercury deposited in the atmosphere and methylmercury, but this study shows how the it actually happens.

The study shows that methylmercury is produced in mid-depth ocean waters by processes linked to “ocean rain.” Algae, produced in sunlit waters near the surface, die quickly and “rain” downward to deeper water.  Bacteria decomposes the settling algae.  The interaction of this decomposition process in the presence of mercury results in methylmercury.

The study shows that, later in the process, predators like tuna ingest methylmercury from the fish they consume.

Also, the study shows the long-range movement of mercury in the ocean that originates in the western Pacific Ocean, off the Asian coast.

Mercury researchers typically look skyward to find a mercury source from the atmosphere due to emissions from land-based combustion facilities,” said USGS scientist and co-author David Krabbenhoft.

However, this study shows the pathway of the mercury was different. “It appears the recent mercury enrichment of the sampled Pacific Ocean waters is caused by emissions originating from fallout near the Asian coasts. The mercury-enriched waters then enter a long-range eastward transport by large ocean circulation currents,” Krabbenhoft said.

In a released statement, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said “This unprecedented USGS study is critically important to the health and safety of the American people and our wildlife because it helps us understand the relationship between atmospheric emissions of mercury and concentrations of mercury in marine fish.”

“This study gives us a better understanding of how dangerous levels of mercury move into our air, our water, and the food we eat, (shining) new light on a major health threat to Americans and people all across the world,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson added. “With this information, plus our own mercury efforts, we have an even greater opportunity to continue working with our international partners to significantly cut mercury pollution in the years ahead and protect the health of millions of people.”

One wonders if this new information will be used for positive action rather than merely the usual political rhetoric.

For more information, see

Biofuel takes to the Air

Continental Airlines became the first U.S. commercial airline to test the use of biofuel in a demonstration flight over North America.

Carrying no passengers during it’s flight from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport, the Boeing 737-800’s two engine plane utilized a mixture of 50% fuel biologically-derived from algae and jatropha plants and 50% traditional jet fuel in one engine. The other contained traditional jet fuel.

Though Continental Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Kellner praised the flight’s success as an example of “Continental´s ongoing commitment to fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility,” there’s no word yet of the carrier’s plans, strategy or timeline for shifting their fleet to an “all natural” plant-based fuel.

A positive sign, to be sure. Hopefully one that leads to definite action in the near future.

Innovation and Creative Thinking Part 2

Universities are exploring different energy solutions. Common algae is being synthesized to create oil for biofuel. According to the National Algae Association, algae’s “a promising source of renewable oil that can be used for a variety of fuels (biofuel, hydrogen, jet fuel, bio gasoline).”
According to Pure Energy Systems Wiki neutral algae biofuel is non-toxic, biodegrades quickly” and is capable of producing 30 times more oil per acre than crops used for biofuels! Though still too expensive for commercial viabitily, in 2006 megacorporation Chevron began a five-year biofuel research alliance with U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory to explore algae’s use. Called the “crop of the future”, UC Berkeley is working with International Energy of Canada to produce hydrogen from algae.


Another unusual energy source is popping up across the country. The town of Sanford, Florida is building a plant to convert wastewater biosolids into synthetic gas (syngas). Sludge from wastewater treatment will be converted, using a biomass gassifier, into renewable “green” energy. The town thus saves on disposal transportation charges and pricey purchases of natural gas.

According to Paul Moore, Sanford Utility Director, “Sanford will save $9,000,000 over the 20-year life of our contractwww.greenenergy/ With such substantial anticipated savings, places like San Diego, Elmont, NY, and Alameda County (in the San Francisco Bay area) are scrambling to take advantage of this outstanding technology. Adding to the appeal, large systems can produce extra energy that would then be sold back to utility companies. 


Creative solutions like these have deep roots in our country’s history. It’s said that when Henry Ford visited Thomas Edison one day, he found it hard to push the front gate open at Edison’s yard. Chiding the great inventor about his rusty gate, Edison replied Ford had just pumped a gallon of water out of the well.

This waste-to-energy technology is a fast growing movement. Its roots go back to the 1980’s, and include southern Massachusetts’ SEMASS (Southern Energy of Massachusetts), whose gigantic resource recovery facility reclaims recyclable materials from waste and generates energy.

These innovative energy solutions – green algae and human waste – are born out of creative thinking. What else does the future hold? Perhaps your imagination has the next great idea.