Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
In the process of writing my piece about Lisa Jackson and the EPA, I got to reading about the EPA passing new mercury regulations. Their regulations are supposed to save the lives of some 11,000 people per year. So I figured I should learn something about mercury. It turned out to be quite surprising … here was my first surprise:
Figure 1. Natural and anthropogenic sources of atmospheric mercury emissions. About 7,500 tonnes of mercury are emitted into the atmosphere each year. Named countries show anthropogenic (human caused) emissions for that country.
My first surprise was that far and away the largest emitter of atmospheric mercury is the ocean. The ocean? I’d never have guessed that. Other huge emitters are various lightly vegetated land areas. In addition, forests, volcanoes, and geothermal vents are significant emitters … which is the reason for my new religious crusade:
So … what are the anthropogenic sources of mercury emissions, and how much of those are emitted from North America? Figure 2 shows those values:
As you can see, North America is not doing well at all in the mercury emission sweepstakes. The rest of the world is busting our chops, easily out-emitting us in all categories. We’ve fallen way, way behind, the Chinese are kicking our emissionary fundament-als. Not only that, but the residence time for mercury in the atmosphere is about a year, so they get our mercury … but we also get theirs …
Now, the “stationary combustion” figures are what the EPA is targeting with their new restrictions. Those are mostly the coal-fired power plants. So let’s see how much of the global emissions are caused by US power plants:
As you can see, the US power plants emit less than 1% of the global mercury emissions. Even if the EPA could get rid of every US coal plant, it will not make a measurable difference in the atmospheric mercury.
Now, here comes the fun part. The new EPA regulations will not cut out all the mercury from US power plants. We’re already pretty efficient at removing mercury, and each additional reduction comes with more difficulty.
So let’s assume that the EPA regs will cut out 25 tonnes of mercury per year. This is supposed to save 11,000 lives every year. So that means if we could wave a magical wand and cut out all of the mercury, 100 percent of it, we should expect to save about 11,000 times 7500/25 = 11,000 times 300 = 3,300,000 lives saved every year … and if you believe that three million people die every year from mercury poisoning, you too could get a job with the EPA.
That’s the thing about facts. As Homer Simpson says,
Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true!
All data from N. Pirrone et al., Global mercury emissions to the atmosphere from anthropogenic and natural sources, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 2010
For further reading, see Willie Soon’s excellent analysis of the EPA “science” on which they have based their mercury findings.
[UPDATE] To better illustrate the total natural and anthropogenic mercury emissions, here is a different version of the same data shown in Figure 1.
Natural sources account for about 70% of the world’s total mercury emissions.