Newly discovered EPA report says ozone measurements may be way off – cities may be in compliance

EPA Surface Ozone Readings are Inflated by Mercury Vapor – The EPA has known about positive biases caused by mercury vapor since 1999

Guest essay by Forrest M. Mims III

Accurate ozone measurements are required by the Clean Air Act, for public health, many jobs and billions of dollars are at stake. Yet since 1999 the EPA has failed to acknowledge erroneous ozone measurements biased upward by mercury vapor and other interferences.

Measurement error may apply to a supposed ozone spike in San Antonio on October 3, 2016, for on that day much of Texas was blanketed by smog and mercury vapor from coal-burning power plants. San Antonio may now be subject to EPA sanctions for a violation it may not have committed.

us_map_ozone_at_70_ppb

Projected 8-Hour Ozone Nonattainment Areas in U.S. under 70 ppb Standard Areas in red are rural counties or counties within a metro area that have at least one monitor that now violates a 70 ppb standard. The orange areas don’t have monitors, but because there are violating monitors nearby it’s reasonable to conclude that those areas could likely violate a 70 ppb standard. Source: API map on EnergyTomorrow.org

While the EPA has long known that ozone measurements are significantly biased upward by mercury vapor, the agency has required States to use ultraviolet ozone monitors subject to mercury interference. These ozone monitors blow air between an ultraviolet (UV) lamp and a UV detector. Ozone strongly absorbs UV, so reductions in UV arriving at the detector are proportional to the ozone in the air. But mercury vapor and other contaminants in air also absorb UV, thus, artificially inflating the amount of “ozone” that is measured. The bias can range from a few parts per billion to many more.

While writing a book on environmental science last spring, I came across a 1999 EPA report that described the mercury interference problem in detail: “Laboratory Study to Explore Potential Interferences to Air Quality Monitors.” https://www3.epa.gov/ttnamti1/archive/files/ambient/criteria/reldocs/finalreport.pdf

In the conclusion:

Low levels of mercury vapor show a marked impact on all three UV photometers at both low and high humidity. The two UV photometers with the heated scrubbers were affected the most. While heated metal scrubbers helped to reduce instrument bias for some VOCs, they seemed to increase bias due to mercury vapors

This report describes how UV ozone analyzers are vulnerable to serious interference, especially from mercury vapor and also from sulfur dioxide, VOCs and water vapor. While the EPA approved this report, the agency did not require the States to use chemiluminescent ozone monitors that are unaffected by mercury and other interferences.

Last summer the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hired me to calibrate the world standard ozone layer instrument (Dobson 83) at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO). (Dobson 83 measures the total ozone layer, not just ozone near the ground.)

Mauna Loa is just one of several Ozone monitoring stations around the world

Mauna Loa is just one of several Ozone monitoring stations around the world

While living for two months at that alpine site 11,200 feet above the Pacific, I often checked the readings made by a mercury vapor monitor and two UV ozone monitors like those used across the US. The scientist in charge told me that mercury interference with ozone measurements is well known.

Erroneous ozone measurements could mean that at least some of the cities in the eastern half of the US in violation of the Clean Air Act may actually be complying.

Moreover, automobile emissions testing, electric vehicles and some other ozone reduction strategies will not eliminate erroneous ozone readings caused by mercury. So, I asked the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the EPA to investigate the mercury bias in ozone measurements. The OIG declined without explanation, so I sent a second request. That request was also declined.

There’s more to this story, for atmospheric mercury, which the EPA does not monitor, is far more dangerous to human health than ozone. As reported by the San Antonio Express-News (January 27, 2011):

“Children exposed to low-dose levels of mercury in-utero can have impaired brain functions, including verbal, attention, motor control, and language deficits, and lower IQs.”

Mercury also contaminates fish in lakes and oceans. The Express-News and many other publications have reported that coal burning power plants in Texas emit more mercury than any other State. Among the main mercury emitters in Texas is CPS Energy’s Calaveras Power Station, which is located on the southeast side of San Antonio from where the wind predominantly blows.

It’s time for the EPA to cease punishing States for putative ozone “violations” caused by mercury vapor and to require a transition to ozone monitors unaffected by interferences. It’s also time for the EPA to recognize that mercury is a far more serious threat to the health of our children than ozone. Finally, it’s time for the EPA Inspector General to follow its charter and fully investigate reports about potentially serious errors in EPA ozone measurements.


Forrest M. Mims III received a Rolex Award for his ozone research, was named one of the “50 Best Brains in Science” by Discover Magazine. More at http://www.forrestmims.org/

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153 thoughts on “Newly discovered EPA report says ozone measurements may be way off – cities may be in compliance

      • HuffPo and Guardian free-lance suggested it was time for a presidential assassination.

        So far the Guardian, rather than denouncing and distancing themselves for this outrageous comment, are maintaining radio silence, hoping it will all fade away unnoticed.

        Appears like they rather agree. Very un-PC all of a sudden.

    • I would think that the Mercury vapor would be far more of a concern than ozone; which after all is just Oxygen. Ozone destroys certain foam plastics, and turns them to dust; but personally I have never thought the odor of ozone was unpleasant. When we get whiffs of it during electrical storms, It is rather refreshing.

      g

    • Like all bureaucracies, the EPA has no interest in actually solving the problems they were created to solve.
      If they ever solved the problem they would be disbanded.
      Instead it is in their interest to exaggerate the problem and lie about solutions in order to increase their budget and power.

    • Why? What does it have to do with Texas?

      I hate fear mongers. The Japanese did something stupid a long time ago. The world learned and stopped doing it.

      Japanese fishermen cooked food PCB oil which is used for cooling electrical transformers because it had superior .fire retardant properties.

      Thanks to the fear mongers the EPA banned PCBs cost billions to clean up.

    • The mercury found in fish is methyly mercury. It is developed primarily in anaerobic environments. It is very volatile, having a boiling point the same as water. I’m unaware of any well-documented cases of methyl mercury poisoning in the USA. That is probably because we routinely cook our fish. On the other hand, the Japanese are fond of sashimi — uncooked fish.

    • The toxicity of mercury is highly dependent on the Hg compound. Cinnibar ( Hg sulfide) is far safer than dimethyl mercury..

      The assumption that all mercury is highly toxic is because it can be measured down to the ppt range in elemental ICP spectrometry.

      Everything is toxic, the poison is in the dose.

      • Keith J said:

        “Everything is toxic, the poison is in the dose.”

        Reminds me of the young lady who said water was safe to drink in large quantities. She tried and died. Her kidneys were unable to eliminate the excess water in the blood stream sufficiently quickly, and the skin elimination route was overwhelmed. The third way of getting rid of excess water is via respiration through the alveoli in the lungs. This too was overwhelmed, they filled with water and she drowned. Dose too great.

        Ban Dihydrogen Oxide! Alternatively ban Oxygen dihydride!

  1. OK, I’ve changed my mind – we can do without the EPA.

    Instead of protecting the US from criminal activity, they are involved in criminal activity.

    • Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      Environment agencies are needed, but who can keep them from being subverted by political and commercial interests?

  2. “There’s more to this story, for atmospheric mercury, which the EPA does not monitor, is far more dangerous to human health than ozone.”

    What a load of junk science. The EPA does not monitor environmental mercury because the CDC has determined it is not a problem in the US.

    Secondly, coal plants were never the cause of legacy problems related to mercury. In the US we fixed those problems a long time ago.

    One of the unintended consequences of making houses more efficient is indoor air pollution. Lots of things in our houses like thermostats had mercury. If you spilled into a tight house airborne level could cause harm.

    Mercury is ubiquitous in the environment. Natural sources are huge, things like coal plants are insignificant.

    • But, but… the EPA should be monitoring environmental mercury since they know it affects their ability to monitor ozone, shouldn’t they?

    • @Retired Kit P: Many studies show that the natural background atmospheric mercury concentration is significantly enhanced by emissions from coal-burning power plants. Emissions arriving from China are a key reason mercury vapor has been measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory for many years. Here’s just one reference: http://dge.stanford.edu/SCOPE/SCOPE_31/SCOPE_31_2.03_Chapter8_89-106.pdf Landfills are also mercury emitters, due in large part to fluorescent lamps. This source will be reduced as LED lighting becomes more widespread.

      • But the LEDs are just now replacing the CFBs which were the mandated (in effect) replacement for the standard incandescent bulbs. And where are CFBs going to end up when they eventually fail? A lot of them will end up in landfills, just like standard fluorescent bulbs.

        If the EPA can’t measure, oh wait, they’re not doing the measurements, are they. Just setting the standards for the instruments to be used. There’s a term from my field. GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Anybody need an explanation?

      • Since Forest is an english major who writes about electronics he can explain the physics of him setting off my BS meter.

        Forest makes a statement and provides an outdated 1987 reference. The science in the reference is good science but the his conclusions are junk science because this amuatur scientist does not understand the science.

        The first principle is that the dose make the poison. This is easy to measure. Hair and blood samples can determine the level of mercury compared to a level of harm. There is currently no problem in the US from environmental mercury.

        In other words, suggesting we need LED because of mercury is junk science.

        Things were different in 1987. We needed lots of complex science to evaluate the sources and pathways of environmental pollutants. So yes we can measure the amount of mercury in the plume of a coal plant to see where to look for a problem. We looked and no problem was found. The is a lot of NRDC junk science that says there is a problem but blood samples of children tell a different story.

        There is another principle of science forest does not understand big and little. The volumetric concentration of mercury in a coal plant plume is a very small number. The volume of air around the EPA monitoring station is very large.

        So while a sensor in the plume might be affected the one on the roof of the EPA building would not be.

        What do fear monger do? The worry about problems that do not exist.

      • About compact fluorescents being a source of mercury pollution: On average, CFLs that replace incandescents 60W or greater reduce mercury pollution by reducing electricity consumption, with consideration for the percentage of electricity generation being from coal.

        Meanwhile – I like LED lightbulbs, now that they are starting to get more economical in many household uses than compact fluorescents.

      • That’s an interesting but rather perverse argument Donald. The danger with all these CFL is that often they are broken in the home where the Hg will not be dispersed in the wind. This was a classic enviro home goal where they increased Hg pollution in homes because of a false fear of CO2 in the air.

      • @Retired Kit P:

        You may be right, but something must be causing the mass insanity evident amongst the snowflake generation.

      • @Leo

        The cause is too many parents letting public schools raise their children. If parents won’t take the time to teach their children natural law, the schools will teach them socialist law and turn them into social justice warriors. The irony of that name is that whenever a modifier is placed in front of the word “justice” the outcome is invariably a very great injustice.

      • Have any of these studies been conducted since the MATS Rule (Mercury and Air Toxics) has come into affect? Mercury emissions from coal plants are significantly reduced. Plus, mercury from all the new natural gas fired plants is non-existent. The sources from China and landfills may be significant, but my reading indicates mercury from volcanoes and crematoria overwhelm the contribution from the others.

      • Retired Kit,

        “The first principle is that the dose make the poison. This is easy to measure. Hair and blood samples can determine the level of mercury compared to a level of harm. There is currently no problem in the US from environmental mercury.”

        Thanks for a good handle to deal with the mercury / health question.
        _______________________________

        Similarly the question ‘vehicles with IC – internal combustion’ / health:

        In the ~100 ys we ever more depend on vehicles with IC worldwide live expectancy grew by ~ 20 ys; not to speak about population growth.

    • And now the ‘government’ is trying to force technology by eliminating incandescent light bulbs and encouraging fluorescent bulbs that … contain elemental mercury. Read the EPA guidelines for what to do if one happens to break in the house. Plus, people are supposed to follow special disposal instructions and not throw them out in the trash – any bets on how many of those things are going to end up broken in landfills?

    • Retired Kit

      I am supporting most of what you write. The air monitoring stations at Cape Point and in northern Canada both of which measure air from oceans (most of the time) both show lots of mercury that comes from the ocean. Completely natural.

      I remind readers that the mercury readings in both stations fluctuate a great deal (down to zero sometimes) on a short time scale (an hour) indicating there are biological activities that involve mercury (it is not just a pollutant).

      Readers may also recall a map shown on this channel indicating there is no detectable rise in mercury concentration anywhere in the USA. I am not surprised they don’t monitor it. It is not a problem.

      Ozone max at 70 ppb is laughable. The EPA would have to ban lightning storms. And breathing. And food. Even vertical circulation in the atmosphere would have to be stopped. There is a heck of a lot of ozone up there.

      Yet another issue is that the EPA demands that certain equipment be used, even when it is known by experts it doesn’t work properly. The standard response to criticism of this is, ‘If everyone uses the same equipment the results are comparable’. No, they are not. If the source contamination is different, the ‘standardized equipment’ gives different errors – the worst sort of result.

      It will be very interesting to see what the actual ozone levels are when measured with non-EPA-required equipment.

      Lastly, isn’t any region on the leeward side of a high mountain range going to have elevated ozone levels?

      • “Ozone max at 70 ppb is laughable.”

        And there is no health benefit at this level.

        Regulations are suppose to be based on a level to prevent harm and the best available technology (BAT). POTUS Bush lowered the level because new technology allowed it. POTUS Obama lowered it some more to show he was tougher on polluters than Bush. The later was political and costs jobs.

        There will be no benefit from the new mercury rule. Bush caved to political pressure generated by fear mongers like Forest.

        For those of you who built a stereo from Radio Shack and think Forest is cool, let me advise you not to mention it in a job interview.

    • Mercury vapor is rapidly converted to methal Mercury and diametralmecury by bacteria. These compounds are known to be toxic to people because they have kill Chemist working with it. A dose of 0.1 ml can kill. It is not junk science. Just because the EPA does’t monitor it doesn’t mean it is not dangerous.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methylmercury

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dimethylmercury

      http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/18657/title/Researchers–Deaths-Inspire-Actions-To-Improve-Safety/

      “Mercury is ubiquitous in the environment. Natural sources are huge, things like coal plants are insignificant.”

      Minnesota has been tracking mercury levels in lakes for some time due to the popularity of fishing. Many small isolated lakes in Minnesota were known to free of mercury in the past and there are no natural sources of mercury in the local enviroment. Yet today many lakes there have mercury and scientist have determined that the vast majority of it is from airborne and manmade sources.

      Lake sedate core studies have shown mercury levels started to increase around 1900 and peaked around 1970. Since then they have been slowly falling. In the last few decades that have seen levels it rise and fall in sync with the concentrations in the air.

      https://www.minnpost.com/earth-journal/2014/06/mercury-northern-minnesota-lakes-falling-sync-emission-curbs

      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.4319/lo.2007.52.6.2467/asset/lno20075262467.pdf;jsessionid=552077CD1643066DCDAD6ECD9DBA5F3E.f04t03?v=1&t=ivfi7aka&s=7933d3a49bdd0770ffd047cdfc3829bc4c9ddda4

      • Steven,
        Yes, dimethyl mercury is extremely toxic. However, it is rare to non-existent in nature. Methyl Mercury is produced principally in anoxic environments by anaerobic bacteria, NOT by ALL bacteria. Furthermore, it has to be concentrated in the food chain before it has potential to be dangerous to humans. EPA bases mercury warnings on the analysis of raw fish, not cooked fish. When I was doing some analyses of potential mercury contamination of water in the Santa Clara Valley (CA) aquifer many years ago, the laboratory told me that if I couldn’t get any fish to them within 24 hours to freeze the fish to avoid loss of methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is volatile, having a boiling point the same as water. Cooking appears to remove most if not all the methyl mercury. Striped Bass in the Suisun Bay (CA) have notoriously high levels of methyl mercury, being at the top of the aquatic food chain. However, when a California game warden, who was fond of eating Striped Bass and had been eating it for years, was tested his blood level of mercury was undetectable. It is probably because he cooked the fish before eating them.

        Mercury vapor can be very dangerous, metallic mercury much less so. Spanish mercury miners, working in environments with high levels of mercury vapor, typically could work for decades before they experienced sufficient neurological damage that prevented them from signing their paychecks, at which time they were retired. Methyl mercury has the potential for being dangerous to humans, but outside of the event at Minimata Bay, it has not been shown to be a common problem for humans. Japanese are fond of raw fish. The supposed claims for methyl mercury poisoning in the US (such as an obese woman eating a diet exclusively of swordfish to lose weight) are poorly documented. The EPA endangerment findings are based on only two studies, one of which found an association with mental impairment of children who ate a lot of fish, and the other did not find an association. You can be your own judge of whether or not to trust the EPA.

      • “Methyl mercury is volatile, having a boiling point the same as water. Cooking appears to remove most if not all the methyl mercury.”

        clyde,
        Yes methyl mercury is volatile. However you are assuming all off of the mercury in fish is Methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is a chemically reactive molecule. It binds with Selenium in the body and will react with chlorine, phosphates, sulfates and many other compounds int he body. compounds in the body. So testing fish tissue for methyl mercury may give you a false negative when mercury is actually present.

        Using a total mercury test would provide more conclusive results. However methyl mercury and total mercury tests can be done simultaneously it get a batter picture of of the overall exposure. I have read the the difference between methyl mercury and total mercury in one study varied by 30% to 80% and was strongly impacted by the species of fish. So I would not assume cooking the fish makes it safe.

        A

    • Don’t forget the mandated compact fluorescent light bulbs. They are better mercury sources than they are illumination sources.

      g

    • Thanks for pointing out that: “Mercury is ubiquitous in the environment. Natural sources are huge, things like coal plants are insignificant”.

      I was going to make the same point. In point of fact the EPA doesn’t do wide spread Hg monitoring because it knows full well that nature sources produce Hg vapor levels that far exceed that that attributable to output of coal plants… and this inconvenient fact is in the way of the EPA’s desire to overregulate coal based power production.

      • To: Retired Kit Phigher

        Just before I retired from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) one of my jobs was to review EPA Clean Air regulations and provide comments to both the EPA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). So, I typically saw proposed regulations before the general public did.

        As the EPA was developing the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) it was abundantly clear that the EPA didn’t have sufficient economic justification to warrant regulation of Hg as a single pollutant. When I and other Federal officials pointed that out the EPA’s justification didn’t hold water, the EPA “solved” the problem by regulating other so-called “toxins” under the MATS rule. When even that wasn’t enough, they preceded to double count NOx and SO2 emission reductions actually achieved under other regulations.

        The EPA’s blatant dishonesty and disregard for the public good infuriates me to this day.

  3. Somehow I think this will be corrected soon. I hope these EPA frauds are sweating bullets about the new pres. Hopefully some decent people at EPA can point out what’s been going on there over the last 8 years. There isn’t enough popcorn in the world to watch the fun in the next couple of years.

    • wouldn’t it be nice if the new IG were to refer most of the EPA burrowers* to the new Attorney General for prosecution under the data integrity act.

      * burrowers are political appointees who convert to professional civil service toward the end of a presidency in order to maintain ideological influence in the bureaucracy. It is mostly practiced by those on the left as most conservatives see government service as a bother interfering with their real mission of making money in the economy.

  4. As a former painting contractor in California, with the state regulating VOC’s heavily because they allegedly caused ground-level ozone, I find it perverse that the gauges confuse VOC’s with ozone.

  5. Ask most anyone that went to school in the U.S.A (and probably most other countries, too) during the 1950s-1970s and you’ll hear about Mercury – We played with it! From what I can tell from informal survey of folks I’ve asked – it was a commonplace occurrence for someone to bring in a mercury thermometer or even better a mercury contact switch from a mechanical thermostat or similar. So Neat – Hey look it – it coats this quarter and dime and makes the shiny! (slips the change into pants pocket) Look at the way the beads roll around on the table! OooPs! those rolled right off, darn – break open another one….
    Somehow – we survived and even have brains enough to remember it!!

    • In 2nd or 3rd grade I brought in some mercury (Dad sometimes brought some from work) with a wetted penny and managed to spill some while showing it around. We didn’t worry about it. Didn’t know then we were supposed to call the EPA and hazmat folks. Of course, it was about 1959….

      On trips from Ohio to the east coast, I liked to buy a little maze with a mercury drop at one of the NY Thruway rest areas. Much more interesting than than ones with the little ball bearings.

      • Well they used to put it into your teeth. I recently had some old mercury fillings removed and replaced by some nice plastic or ceramic crowns. I used to play with pounds of mercury that was used in a barometer gizmo. Spilled a good bit of it by accident.
        But I don’t kid myself that it is good for you in any way.
        Nowadays, I treat mercury with the caution that it is due.

        198Hg is miracle stuff if you like sharp spectral lines. You make it out of gold, in a reactor.

        G

    • My understanding is that elemental mercury (the fun stuff you played with as a kid) is not dangerous. It’s mercury vapors that can be harmful (though don’t know exposure at what concentration for how long).

      In geology grad school in the 1980’s, we had a little device that measured the porosity of a rock sample by injecting mercury into it. You put a small rock cylinder in the chamber, closed the chamber, and increased pressure inside the chamber which forced mercury into the rock sample. You determined the porosity of the rock by the difference in weight between the original sample and the mercury-impregnated (boy, I never thought I would string those two words together) sample.

      Anyway, the punchline of this story is that the mercury was kept in a glass flask, and one day someone dropped the flask, it shattered, and a thousand little mercury balls went scooting everywhere. Two professors, our mineralogy professor and our geophysics professor, came in while we were cleaning it up. The geophysics professor went nuts and told us the stuff was poisonous and to get out, and the mineralogy professor said, “sh!t, you could drink that and it won’t hurt you.” not sure if that’s exactly true, but was an early lesson in the difference of opinions of “experts.”

      • I also once had the experience (in school) of dropping a full flask of mercury. Ended up with a massive puddle of the stuff all over the floor with droplets scooting off everywhere. Not my finest moment. At the time the recommended lab procedure for mercury spills was to dump sulphur over it. This was supposed to absorb harmful mercury vapours. In retrospect however the people who made this recommendation probably had in mind something like a small bead of mercury from a broken thermometer, not a large pool of mercury from a broken flask. After dumping the labs entire supply of sulphur into it what we ended up with was more like a shiny lake of mercury with a small yellow island of sulphur in the middle. Collected it up in the end with a dustpan and brush.

      • I guess that’s why I’m alive and functional 50 years after breaking a mercury thermometer in my mouth. I probably swallowed about 10% of the minimal amount it contained. That’s a relief!

      • John H: It’s the Mercury vapor that seems to be the problem. Actually, someone suggested Methyl Mercury. I have no idea if methane and elemental Mercury can combine in that way in the gut, but I guess the obvious downwind precautions would be in order….

      • Mercury used to be used as a medicine for bowel problems in the olden days. A person would drink the mercury as a tonic to flush the digestive tract.

      • For those of retirement age, it was common to play with mercury and we have apparently suffered no ill effects. When I was teaching chemistry in the ’70s, there was usually at least one thermometer broken each quarter. The stockroom technician would come into the lab and sweep up as much as possible and then sprinkle sulfur powder on the floor in the area, let it sit until the end of the period, and then clean up the remaining sulfur and mercury. I’m unaware of any negative impacts from the practice. In any event, the vapor from any remaining mercury is more of a potential danger than any exposure to the metallic mercury.

        The judgment of geophysics professors is not to be trusted, (My undergraduate degree is a BS in geology with an emphasis in geophysics.)

      • Clyde

        “For those of retirement age, it was common to play with mercury and we have apparently suffered no ill effects”

        Not apparent to you maybe, but to the rest of us its a different story!

        (sarc) couldn’t resist.

    • We had a cubic inch of mercury in a jar to play with. My father was designing equipment that used its density in a time delay switch. We did all sorts of things with it, as described below.

      Obviously there are good and bad forms of mercury. Methyl-mercury is correctly getting the attention but the element is getting tarnished with the same brush.

    • used to put it on coins, they were very shiny for a short time then tarnished very quickly…..had enough sense to NOT EAT IT……lol and know of no damage done to me from doing that 50 years ago

      • Ingestion of small amounts of metallic mercury seems fairly safe. 3 kg of mercury is to be avoided. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8355325 says in toto:

        Massive oral ingestion of elemental mercury.

        Abstract

        A 42 year old male, while repairing a sphygmomanometer, intentionally ingested an estimated 3 kg (220 mL) of metallic mercury. During admission, only tremor, irritability, forgetfulness and fatigue were noted. There were no obvious gastrointestinal or hepatic complications. Blood and urine mercury levels were significantly elevated. Most of the metallic mercury was cleared from the gut within 10 days. A few months later, hepatic dysfunction with jaundice developed. Serial investigations did not suggest a viral etiology or alcoholism. Liver function tests and blood and urine mercury levels returned to normal over the next 10 months. The observation suggests that massive and prolonged retention of metallic mercury may facilitate the conversion of metallic, elemental mercury to divalent mercury and its subsequent absorption with development of hepatic dysfunction.

      • That’s a lot of mercury. That would bind to any sulfide containing amino acid/protein. Binding up all of the available glutathione in his liver would make it susceptible to a host of redox related damage and hepatic failure (like alcohol metabolism does, for instance).

    • I used to play with liquid mercury in high school

      For some reason we had a jar under the sink with about 10 pounds of the stuff. We learned the primary danger at a young age: A neighbor lady will get very angry when you let her hold your mercury and it destroys her wedding ring.

  6. Sorry to go off-topic on everyone … Forrest Mims, you are a personal hero of mine. Thank you so much for all the work you did with electronics books like the Engineer’s Notebook. They were and remain critical components of my electronics foundation, and I’ve introduced my own son to the hobby through your work.

    • ditto.
      same here. I still have somewhere my nicely detailed Mims EE books… somewhere in a box.
      I think I’ll go look for them and enjoy a memory lane from 30 yrs ago.

    • Not at all off topic, at least not compared to what we did with mercury.

      I’m somewhat ashamed to have a EE degree but have done very little with Forrest Mims’ books. By the time they came out computers and programming had their tentacles in me. Those are pretty good tentacles….

      One thing that people here might enjoy is an article about measuring the amount of water vapor in the air column with an inexpensive non-contact IR thermometer. They’re not really designed for the task, but do much better than you’d expect. Which is one reason I have a Kintrex IRT0421.

      http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/2011BAMS3215.1

  7. There’s more to this story, for atmospheric mercury, which the EPA does not monitor, is far more dangerous to human health than ozone.

    “Children exposed to low-dose levels of mercury in-utero can have impaired brain functions, including verbal, attention, motor control, and language deficits, and lower IQs.”

    If I understand things correctly, elemental mercury, including mercury vapor, doesn’t readily get absorbed into our body. Methyl mercury, which you get from fish and whatnot, is readily absorbed and slow to leave, and that is a serious hazard. My dentist is in his 70s and has been mixing mercury/silver amalgam for decades without ill effect.

    Then there’s dimethyl mercury, which can be absorbed through latex gloves and skin and is truly evil, dangerous stuff. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/1997/06/mercury-poisoning-kills-lab-chemist Give it a wide berth, like two or three counties.

    • Ric,

      Wish I’d seen your posts before I posted above. I’m not a toxicologist (just a lowly geologist), but that was my understanding from past experience. exposure to elemental mercury is not very dangerous. it’s organo-mercury compounds and mercury vapors that can be dangerous. You note that mercury vapor does not get readily absorbed and I have no expertise to say yay or nay, but i would think the exposure pathways between metallic mercury and mercury vapors would be different, which could result in different outcomes. The difference is that you are more likely to ingest metallic mercury as you noted in your above post, while you would inhale mercury vapors into your lungs.

      • Phil,
        When I lived in California, my hobby was diving for gold. When I was about 29, I decided to try to recover the gold from a small quantity of amalgam that I had found in the Yuba River. I took the amalgam outside on a cold, windy day in December. I heated it to a red heat in a crucible with a propane torch, and mistakenly assumed that I had driven off all the mercury. I took the gold sponge into the garage because it was cold in the wind. I proceeded to melt the sponge, which apparently still contained significant mercury. About two days later I noticed tremors in my hands, and discovered I was having difficulty controlling my temper. I didn’t lose my hair, which can happen in acute cases of salivation. It took about two weeks for the symptoms to resolve. So, I know from personal experience that breathing mercury vapors can be dangerous. However, the body eliminates mercury much more rapidly than methyl mercury.

  8. The bio-reduced methyl mercury and dimethyl mercury forms though are exceedingly letal in the most minute of quantities.

  9. Forrest, thanks as always for your contributions. Well explained, well written.

    My best to you,

    w.

  10. “. . . mercury vapor and other contaminants in air also absorb UV . . .” What are those other contaminants?

  11. I don’t know how urban legendary this is…but I have heard of a party trick whereby you eat a spoonful of mercury and within an hour it comes out your bum

    • I reckon it is an urban legend. Consider the convolutions of the large and small intestines! Were the gut a straight vertical tube with stomach and duodenum just the only barriers, this could be readily conceived as a party trick. But to go through 33 ft of gut, down hill easy, up hill very difficult, gravity will tend to keep it at the lowest point. You will really have to wait till the food/detritus gets around to the bottom before it will come out. IIRC this is about 24 hours at best – could be several days if constipated!

  12. Mr. Mims,

    Is this an issue with the EPA misrepresentation of ozone or a concern that they’re missing monitoring of hazardous mercury vapor produced burning coal?

    Seems there may be two concerns worth considering:
    “There’s more to this story, for atmospheric mercury, which the EPA does not monitor, is far more dangerous to human health than ozone. As reported by the San Antonio Express-News (January 27, 2011):”

    • I think we should be clear here that evaporated elemental mercury is still elemental. It is not methylated by evaporating. If a ball of mercury is dropped on the floor a lot of it ‘disappears’. I know that from experience.

      As to the question above about what else interferes with the ozone measurement, lots of things. Anything that has an absorption line from UV or IR affects instruments based on readings from them. It can get very complicated. An FTIR instrument has massive calculating power for just this reason: to work out what the portions of each gas are absorbing.

      The multi-gas Cemtrex IR analysers reserve a channel for water vapour because it interferes so strongly with everything else. In the UV range the same applies: anything with the right shape will absorb some or other wavelength and a low quality instrument will not be able to (literally) see the difference.

  13. Strange ….
    The bright red patches on the lead map of USA remind me of blue patches on the map 2 days ago. That Dem/Repub one.
    But correlation is not causation. Innit.
    Geoff

    • Geoff: The correlation is not strange. Where many people live close together – with their cars, jobs, power plants, and other sources of air pollution – air pollution is a major concern. When I arrived in LA for college in 1970, it hurt to breath deeply for the first three days and I never saw the nearby Santa Anna mountains. That problem is greatly improved, but the greatest remaining danger – if any remains – comes from ozone, which we can’t see. I’m skeptical that we are any safer with a 70 ppb limit for ozone (or the even the lower limit proposed, 65 ppb) than the earlier limit of 75 ppb – and I’m even more skeptical that the needed changes will be worth the cost. The is likely the results of activists and bias in and outside the EPA. In other parts of the country, air pollution isn’t a major concern and citizens rightly resent the EPA’s interference.

  14. Things are going to be very interesting in the next year.

    When the talking heads say it’s hard to change the DC culture, that’s BS. For the hard to get rid of, assign them to the “rubber room” like they do at the NY Public Schools do with bad teachers.

    Ensure they are there on time and work a full day.
    While on the job they should try to determine if Pi is a rational number with paper and pencil.
    No computer access, no internet, no porn. Just sit in an office for 8hrs a day with a pencil and paper.

  15. Is ozone pollution usually measured with a device using a low pressure mercury vapor lamp? Low pressure mercury vapor lamps are the main way to generate ultraviolet of wavelengths that ozone absorbs. That could explain the device being sensitive to mercury vapor. Most of the UV that is generated by a low pressure mercury vapor lamp is the 253.7 nm wavelength, which is one of the two significant mercury wavelengths that are generated by excited mercury atoms transitioning to the ground state, AKA “resonance lines”. Elements in form of gas or vapor easily emit and absorb these wavelengths even at low pressure or low partial pressure (which is an expression of concentration). Mercury vapor easily absorbs the 253.7 nm wavelength from low pressure mercury vapor lamps made of materials that pass this wavelength. (Ordinary glass, acrylic and polycarbonate don’t pass it, although quartz and special glasses made to pass this wavelength do.)

    One possible solution for measuring ozone concentration with negligible interference from mercury vapor is to use shortwave UV LEDs, which are now available. They don’t produce shortwave UV nearly as efficiently or cost-effectively as low pressure mercury vapor lamps, but maybe now they are good enough for this task. These LEDs have an emission band something like 100-plus times as wide as the absorption band of low pressure (or low concentration) mercury vapor, and many have central wavelengths substantially longer than 253.7 nm while their UV is still easily absorbed by ozone. I think ozone pollution measuring devices using such LEDs can be made, and they will be affected by mercury vapor pollution about or less than 1/100 as much as ozone measuring devices that use low pressure mercury vapor lamps.

  16. One of the strangest ‘doctrinaire’ aspects of the Green position is the fact that they will not countenance ‘clean’ coal technology. We are surely smart enough to pull most of the pollutants out of combustion gases…but would we be permitted to burn coal in a cleaner way? Nope.
    I once heard an engineer humiliated and verbally abused on the Australian ABC because he was promoting clean coal technology.

    • They classify CO2 as pollution. The science is seriously corrupt. Bruno Latour is right. Science is a social construct (but truth is not).

      The greenies will not be happy until the human population is reduced to a few million and we have forgotten how to make fire.

  17. So, I asked the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the EPA to investigate the mercury bias in ozone measurements. The OIG declined without explanation, so I sent a second request. That request was also declined.

    This is just another documented case of how dysfunctional the EPA has become. Make sure this issue is brought to attention of Myron Ebell , he will need documentary evidence of malfeasance to kick some ass when he takes over.

    I’m sure he’ll be gather information already.

    Good work.

    • As much as I agree with Greg: This is just another example of how dysfunctional GOVERNMENT just is. To have a strong, rich, free Nation we need a weak, poor, tiny government at every level.
      Snowflakes demonstrating for windmills only hurts working people and children if GOVERNMENT imposes windmills. If the “advanced” economies were not taxed to pay for PV, wind, unicorn flatulence and flammable batteries snowflake sentiments would be only annoying. If Western US lands were privately owned world oil prices would never have exceeded $42/barrel and billions of “third-world” folks would likely live in peaceful, prosperous lands. Well, a better chance at least.

    • It’s well known that large-population areas usually have a higher proportion of Dems. Kinda like Influenza outbreaks … :-)

  18. Somewhere in the article I saw the expression “erroneous zone.” It was also used, many years ago, instead of “erogenous zone.” I wish I could remember the context of that earlier usage. I also wonder if one could critique articles in terms of their erroneous zones (i.e., errors). I don’t know enough to critique the present article, which reads pretty well to me. It also makes sense to require the EPA to use accurate measures if they can impose penalties or require remediation.

  19. When I was at school, and we had to use mercury, while we could form little mercury puddles and tiny silver balls, but the Physics master was most upset if it got onto the floor. This was because of wastage -the cost was important. The tables in the physics lab had grooves around the edge to collect droplets of mercury, which could be shooshed along to a drain hole at each corner, and there drained back into the jar.

    At work, we used ozonators to disinfect and deodourize frig chambers – the smell of many frig cargoes will stick to the walls and is very difficult to get off by mechanical (ie, washing) means, so the ozonators were used in the shut chamber to chemically oxygenate the molecules of the odours.

    So now ozone is supposed to be a pollutant? Well, one would never have thunk it!

  20. At college we had a temporary chemistry teacher who was previously a researcher at Oxford University. He told us of the way he used to clean up mercury by squeezing it through a chamois leather bag. He said that he occasionally got tingling in his arms, but there seemed to be no other effects.

    • Stephen,
      During the California gold rush, mercury was commonly used in the sluice boxes to help trap the gold. What formed is called amalgam. It was common procedure to put the amalgam into a chamois cloth and squeeze the excess mercury out before the remaining amalgam was placed in a retort to separate the mercury and gold. The mercury passed off as vapor, which was condensed and re-cycled. What remained is called gold sponge and was then later melted and cast into bars.

    • Was only a matter of time.

      All the imbalance in energy from the EL Nino and NA blob has now been sucked up into the Arctic for gradual disposal. There is no warmth to replace it.

      The cooling from the sleepy sun will now start to take over.

    • Tears, angst as workforce braces for Trump takeover

      http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060045642

      U.S. EPA employees were in tears. Worried Energy Department staffers were offered counseling. Some federal employees were so depressed, they took time off. Others might retire early.

      And some employees are in downright panic mode in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory.

      “People are upset. Some people took the day off because they were depressed,” said John O’Grady, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, a union that represents thousands of EPA employees. After Election Day, “people were crying,” added O’Grady, who works in EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago. “They were recommending that people take sick leave and go home.”

      • Awww….Poor babies! Maybe they need “participation” trophies, and to be told that they are special too.

      • Tears from EPA employees? Panic and depression? Frankly, this is a positive development in view of the tears and depression experienced by many young school children who have been instructed with clearly biased and even erroneous information from the EPA about the origin and effects of climate change. Then there are the huge fines and criminal sanctions the now depressed EPA staff have imposed on property owners for violating their extreme interpretation of “Waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act.

      • They were not ‘depressed’. Depression is a clinical condition. They may have been sad, disappointed, listless, demotivated, upset, disoriented, unfocussed or even despondent, but not depressed.

      • Why are they crying? Why are so many depressed? If nothing else, Trump is a smart business man that will not fire people doing good work… Oh! Right! They’re self-incriminating themselves. They should have “taken” the 5th, put their heads done and went back to work. But then THAT is really what this article is about, isn’t it. The EPA is NOT about doing good science, it is about politics and politics is about money. So they KNOW they got a cushy Gov. job and as long as they trumpeted the party line and pushed the data to conform with the agenda – – they’ll keep their jobs. When you you think about it, it’s us that should be crying because it’s OUR tax money they have been wasting.

  21. WikiLeaks ‏@wikileaks 6h6 hours ago
    The nightmares liberals have over Trump are nothing compared to the dictatorships they forced others to live under

  22. My post was mainly about erroneous ozone readings caused by mercury vapor and other interferences. This and the fact the EPA does not track mercury vapor or account for the error in ozone readings it causes may provide the basis for injunctive relief for cities and States charged with violating the EPA’s latest ozone rule. In contrast with some of the anecdotal accounts given here, the presence of mercury vapor in exhaust plumes from coal-burning power plants and the serious health effects of inhaling mercury vapor are well documented in the scholarly literature. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a basic informational website on this topic, which states (in part): “Breathing mercury vapors in air is the most common way to be exposed to elemental mercury, and is the most harmful to your health. If mercury is swallowed most of it passes through your body and very little is absorbed. If you touch mercury for a short period of time a small amount may pass through your skin, but not enough to harm you.” http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/mercury/docs/healtheffectsmercury.pdf

    • Many responses have drifted away from your point about “erroneous ozone readings caused by mercury vapor and other interferences.” What should be ;most troubling here is the fact that the EPA is aware of this yet they don not measure/track the mercury vapor. Injunctive relief while the EPA replaces the incompetent individuals responsible would seem to be a prudent first course of action.

      Is this a travesty caused by environmentalists?

      • @JohnWho. The mercury interference problem (and other interferences) might explain why the EPA once had a +/- 20 percent tolerance for air quality readings. Years ago when I found a +20 percent bias in ozone readings by CAMS 23 in San Antonio, the EPA agreed to the error but ruled that it met their tolerance allowance. They then required the modeler for the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) to use the knowingly erroneous data in the ozone model. DISCLAIMER: I was once retained by the EPA to give a talk on my UV measurements at an international UV conference in Japan. The EPA once installed an automated Brewer spectrophotometer at my site for a 60-day comparison of its ozone layer measurements with mine. I’ve represented my county on AACOG’s AIR Technical Committee since 2002. It’s an appointment with no compensation or reimbursement of expenses. I serve on the committee’s Ozone Subcommittee. The views expressed on WUWT are my own.

    • Forest
      I saw your post as a plea to stop using a UV instrument and start using chemiluminesence. instruments. As I’m sure you know chemiluminesence instruments are routinely used to measure a host of other air pollutants. Why the EPA would continue to specify the use of an instrument with a known interference, without some sample preconditioning to remove the interference, smacks of trying to increase the measured ozone for political purposes.

      Speaking of ozone levels in the atmosphere, Crispin (above) is right, 70 ppb (that’s parts per billion) is a travesty. It’s almost ground level background .

      • @old engineer. Based on my reply below about the EPA’s former +/- 20 percent tolerance for ozone measurements, I have to agree with your first paragraph. As for natural background ozone, during my 9-week stay at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory last summer, surface ozone levels fell to as low as 20 ppb, the lowest I’ve ever observed. On the other hand, on some days the ozone exceeded 100 ppb, the highest I’ve observed in 25 years of calibrating my instruments at MLO. Most authors assign the natural background to be around 30-40 ppb. As for 70 ppb, the health benefits are controversial and it’s unattainable in many regions without shutting down transportation and factories. It’s also unattainable when measurements are dependent on 254-nm analyzers when significant interferences are present, including being downwind from coal-burning power plants that emit mercury vapor.

  23. Ozone discrimination has run rampant and a lot of poor cities and towns suffered because of it, even those upwind.

  24. Forrest talks about the advantages of changing to LEDs, but there maybe drawbacks as well.

    “The near-infrared range affects your health in a number of important ways. For example, it helps prime the cells in your retina for repair and regenerate.

    Since LEDs have virtually no infrared and an excess of blue light that generates reactive oxygen species (ROS), this explains why LEDs are so harmful for your eyes and overall health. ”

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/10/23/near-infrared-led-lighting.aspx?utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20161023Z1&et_cid=DM123594&et_rid=1723606131

    • This problem is well known and being thoroughly studied. The excessive blue is probably more important than the absence of near-IR. GaN that is used to make blue LEDs can be compositionally tailored to produce wavelengths ranging from the UV-C to the green. This flexibility and the ever-growing array of phosphors that transform GaN emissions into longer wavelengths may eventually solve the excess blue problem. If indoor near-IR is important, it can be easily provided by existing technology (GaAs:Si and Al;GaAs near-IR LEDs with emission peaks from 880 nm to 940 nm and FWHM emission widths >100 nm).

    • Pish and Tosh! The body generates reactive species all the time as part of its normal molecular signaling. Nitric oxide (NO) is an important reactive signaling molecule that regulates blood flow in the retina and elsewhere. The typical human has plenty of retinal cells when they die. However, they usually have selective losses in the macula (color receptors) and general dropout of the ganglion cells that provide axons from the retina to the brain. There is a lot going on with aging of the eye that depends on genetics and on the cornea and lens, not the retina. The causes for age-related blindness are still being explored, but blue light with such low intensity isn’t a leading candidate so far as I know. Your argument is like saying looking at blue sky more than cloudy sky causes blindness. There’s just no evidence of a significant effect in humans over the normal lifespan.

  25. It sounds as though the EPA has inadequate Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control protocols in place. In my former lab. had we done such measurements, we would have isolated the equipment and fed other pure gases alone through the system to see the instrument response, and then we would have a ‘standard Ozone’ gas of known concentration to calibrate the instrument each day. Any gas that interfered, would have to be quantified, and accounted for, and the correction process described and defined. The EPA should not be allowed to formulate policy or punishment on the garbage they measure.

  26. Victory for America’s Youth – Constitutional Climate Lawsuit against U.S. to Proceed

    https://earthnetwork.news/2016/11/12/the-kids-win-again-lawsuit-against-us-regarding-climate-change-can-proceed/

    Federal Judge Ann Aiken rejects U.S. government and fossil fuel industries motions to dismiss
    Eugene, OR – Today, the federal court in Eugene, Oregon decided in favor of 21 youth plaintiffs in their “groundbreaking” constitutional climate lawsuit against President Obama, numerous federal agencies, and the fossil fuel industry. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken completely rejected all arguments to dismiss raised by the federal government and fossil fuel industry, determining that the young plaintiffs’ constitutional and public trust claims could proceed. Now, the 21 plaintiffs, who range in age from 9-20, are preparing for trial in what is believed to be a turning point in United States constitutional history.
    In determining the complaint to be valid, Judge Aiken’s ruling contained these passages:

  27. Just a glance at the “8-hour Ozone Nonattainment” map shows the O3 in many areas cannot be man made . I’m at 2500m up in Teller County Colorado with no significant population or industry anywhere around . The entire high mountain band in CO is red .

    I think the only way to cut the O3 is to ban UV from the Sun . That not only is absorbed by the O3 it creates it .

    BTW : I remember the fresh smell of UV ozone generators in the halls of the Culver Military Academy infirmary over half a century ago . If O3 is so dangerous why does it smell so fresh and healthy ?

    • Growing up in Fort Wayne, I had friends who went to Culver Military Academy.

      One of the misleading things about air quality maps, is the location of the sensors. For example, the closest air monitors for where we lived in Bedford County was Roanoke, VA. In the city, burning leaves is banned and it is a ritual in the county.

      So Bob If you live in a rural areas check to see where the sensor is located.
      http://www.colorado.gov/airquality/all_sites_map_ags.aspx

    • Bob A

      You are supporting my argument that mountain air has high ozone. When that air blows eastwards down onto the Plains it obviously raises the ‘local’ level. Apart from the readings being an issue because of equipment, it is silly to assume that ‘local’ readings always tell us something about local pollution. If the background (natural) level varies from 100 then it is pointless to have a standard of <70 ppb. It is like having a methane 'pollution' max that is below the ambient average.

  28. More info on ozone. Ozone may seem to be a simple molecule to a chemist, but it’s properties are not simple. Some general info on how ozone is used, and chemical properties.
    http://encyclopedia.airliquide.com/Encyclopedia.asp?GasID=137

    General safety considerations are not simple.
    https://www.osha.gov/dts/chemicalsampling/data/CH_259300.html

    A very interesting starting link for more info on ozone.
    http://mcclainozone.com/research-data/

    For those interested in how ozone is naturally created in the stratosphere, the chemical formation of ozone from UV and O2 has a POSITIVE pressure coefficient. As pressure gets higher (lower altitude) the chemical formation of O3 becomes more favorable. If you were to completely destroy all ozone in the stratosphere, solar UV would penetrate to lower altitudes where the chemical reactions forming ozone are favored, and a new “layer” of ozone would form almost instantly, and that new layer will block UV from passing to lower altitudes, etc.
    IE, Earth’s natural ozone layer is self healing.
    But if you generate ozone at surface pressure, the chemical reactivity of ozone with other chemicals will cause it to dis-appear with a half life of about a day.

  29. If something is a big problem, there should be lots of real smoking guns but mercury poisoning is rarely seen by US doctors.

    To be sure mercury is bad stuff and should be handled carefully. When fear mongers tell me how dangerous something is, I want to see the dead bodies.

    Where is the smoking gun?

    I have been on the front line of safety for most of my career on navy ships, in nuclear power plants, and nuclear fuel assembly manufacturing plants. There is a long list of hazards that have the potential to be fatal. Yet I work in a very safe industry. Almost all of the fatalities were before my time and the result of human error.

    Here is an example of a mercury smoking gun.

    Old natural gas meters used to located basement of houses. Growing up we would live the backdoor unlocked so the meter could be read the meter.

    There all kinds of data on emergency room visits. I read an interesting report on mercury poisoning. A teenage boy was brought to the ER because he was unable to walk. He claimed he was not taking drugs but that was the first thing they test for. The doctors were baffled. They had read about mercury poisoning but had never seen it. A simple blood test confirmed it and a chelation therapy was started.

    Then the doctors notice his younger sister could not sit still. Tested her, mercury big time. Same for the parents who are less symptomatic. When they tested, their house it had high levels of volatile mercury that the family was breathing. Indoor air pollution from conserving energy.

    The source was a mercury switch in the gas meter. The gas company was replacing gas meter. They went back and checked the houses and 9000 homes were contaminated.

    I found the report interesting from a safety standpoint. Heating with gas is hazardous. Statistically it is very safe but gas explosions do occur. Because of the odor, people evacuate before the explosion and are rarely killed. From an economic standpoint, extra precautions to prevent spilling mercury would have saved lots of cleanup costs.

    Here is the science. Mercury is liquid at room temperature and volatile. If you spill it indoors and breath it, mercury could result. However, the amount has to be more significant than a CFL.

    I hope most of you understand indoor and outdoor. If you exhaust the stack of a coal plant or even your car inside, you will die most like from carbon monoxide poisoning.

    There is no smoking gun for mercury from burning coal.

    • Chemical assays of coal are routine. eg. here is a USGS survey report of mercury in coal.
      http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs095-01/fs095-01.html

      Generally, around 0.1 ppm in the US. That’s less than one gram mercury in one million grams of coal.
      I’d agree that the general medical hazard of mercury from coal burning is not very important. Especially when compared to the amount of mercury in sea-food. There are also many other heavy metals in coal, but most of that is oxidized and remains in the ash. I’m no expert on ash disposal, but I’d guess there are volumes of data somewhere that quantify the amounts.

      Extrapolating on a global scale, for one gigatonne of coal the amount of mercury is
      1E9 times 1E-7 or 100 tonnes of mercury. Supposedly, burning coal accounts for roughly 1/2 of anthropogenic mercury. If that ends up in the oceans, then it’s not surprising that bio-accumulation through the food chain causes fish to show elevated mercury. Then again, mammals have a liver and kidneys that are designed to reduce any bad stuff in ordinary life. My botany professor told us that as a student in the 1950s he would clean botanical samples by pushing whole plants under the surface of open vats of liquid mercury with his bare hands. This caused contaminants and bugs to float and be skimmed off.
      He was a robust and young looking 65 years old when I took his classes and was continued to be active at age 90 last i heard.

      • BW

        I must have a quibble on the calculation, as presented. If mercury is 0.1 ppm is that on a mass or molar basis? If it is literally 0.1 ‘parts’ per million then it is much more than that on a % mass basis. Mercury is about 16 times the mass of carbon.

        The calculation should be done on the basis of the number of atoms in the coal so that a meaningful calculation can be made of the concentration in the emissions. When I started reading your contribution I thought you were going to provide that.

        1% is 10,000 ppm. If the mercury is 0.1 ppm on the basis of mass, then it is 0.00001%. That seems low.

        Whatever the case, the issue with toxins is exposure. By the time the coal is burned and turned into a diluted gas, which is then dispersed into the environment, the amount we could breathe is very low. Really, really low. I expect the EPA is aware of that which is why they don’t monitor it.

        The description above about the ‘contest’ to lower the permissible ozone level with no real basis for it (epidemiological evidence) is indicative of the real problem: too many politicians.

      • Retired Kit P,
        I read recently that coal ash is being looked at as a source for Rare Earth Elements so that we are not so dependent on China. One might look at coal ash as being a potential resource that provides power as a side-benefit of the initial concentration step.

  30. Ozone is formed by UV light below 200 nm (amongst other ways) but once formed it absorbs UV light below about 290 nm strongly which is why the ozone layer protects us from solar UV C (wavelengths below 290 nm). Mercury has a strong absorption line at 253.7 nm so yes both absorb in the UV C region however lots of organic molecules also absorb strongly in this region. For example nitric oxide (NO) emitted by diesel engines is a very good absorber of low UV. This is really basic spectroscopy, surely any approved measurement technique must take such well known interferences into account.

    Oh, and by the way, I noticed some comments above to the effect that mercury occurs is several forms and that it is methyl mercury that is toxic not elemental mercury. Yes methyl mercury is insanely toxic but elemental mercury is also very toxic. The term “mad as a hatter” has a basis in fact. Hatters used to soak the felt of which hats were made in mercury to make it heavier and easier to mold. But in the process they slowly absorbed enough mercury to cause brain damage so that they slowly became mad. Mercury has a very low boiling point so even at room temperature it has a significant vapour pressure and can be ingested by breathing in the vapour. I have heard stories that in the 1920’s in German universities, a significant liquid mercury spill in a lab with a wooden floor was grounds to replace the entire floor!

    • Nitric oxide is made by human bodies (and other mammals at least) and is released in small amounts in the exhaled breath. Nitric oxide is one of many chemical signals used to control tissue processes. In the blood, nitric oxide is a vasodilator and pharmaceutical amounts are produced by the metabolism of nitroglycerin or other nitrated compounds (including the oxidation of arginine, if I am remembering correctly). Sublingual nitroglycerin is used to treat the angina (chest pain) associated with partial blockage of the heart’s coronary arteries, because this form bypasses the liver and allows a higher blood concentration to be reached. The vasodilatory action reduces the chest pain by allowing a greater blood flow through the partial blockage (flow is a 4th power function of inner diameter). This, in turn, reduces the effects of the altered tissue pH, oxygenation, sugar and fat content of the working muscle that is hypoxemic from the partial blockage. In a full blockage (infarction) the effects of nitrates help shunt blood around the blockage, which may reduce the amount of tissue loss from local calcium induced apoptosis.

      • cdquaries you stated “Saturation vapor pressure of pure metallic mercury at 315K (42C) is 1 Pa”. I am not sure what your purpose was in making that comment but it seemed to me you were claiming it is really low. Well atmospheric pressure is 100,000 Pa so 1 Pa is 1 in 100,000 or 10 ppm by volume! Mercury has atomic mass 200 whereas air has atomic mass about 29 so by weight this corresponds to 10 *200/29 ppm or 69 ppm. Looking up the chemical dictionary, it quotes that mercury is highly toxic by skin absorption and inhalation of vapour – tolerance 0.05 mg per cubic meter (of air). 1 cubic meter of air = 1.25 kg and 0.05 mg = 5*10^-2 mg = 5*10^-5 gm = 5*10^-8 kg. Thus the toxic limit is 5*10^-8/1.25 = 4*10^-8 or 0.04 ppm. Thus your saturation pressure is 69/0.04 = 1725 times the tolerance limit.

        Don’t know about you but that’s pretty toxic by my standards!

      • Weight doesn’t matter that much and, yes, I question the actual toxicity, since your typical spill won’t reach saturation. How many atoms is that? Room temperature, being lower than 42C (more like 24C so, at a rough first approximation, that’s going to mean that the saturation vapor pressure is less than 1 Pa. What’s going to count is how much gets past the skin or past the mucus lining in the lungs, remembering that some of it is not going to reach the dermis or the epithelial lining (binds to sulfides) and some is going to bind to circulating glutathione, so much more data is going to have to be presented in order to evaluate what “highly” toxic means.

  31. So we have another bureaucratic bungle based on bad instrumentation, like much of the rest of the environmental/climate scam industry.
    I don’t like burning coal for energy, lets go nuke.

  32. Anthony/Moderators,
    There is a typo’ in the sub-heading. It should read “positive” rather than “posive.”

    [fixed thanks, Anthony]

  33. “San Antonio may now be subject to EPA sanctions for a violation it may not have committed.”

    You say this as if it were a bad thing.

  34. Please flag this for Anth0ny since I know he knows the State Meteorologist of Texas.

    Thanks very much for this post. I have been watching ozone levels in San Antonio (and Austin) for 12 years. Both cities have a distinct ozone season that ends in late September. October events are rare. (I used to suspect that the authorities were creating these epsidodes to insure that an ozone violation accurred in an otherwise low-ozone year. This year ozone levels were down in EVERY Texas city, as of Oct 1. The “background” level for the entire state fell, and has been falling ~1.5 ppb / year for 10 years.)

    Both Austin and San Antonio have major coal fired power plants located south east of the cities. Both have ozone monitors distributed around the cities. And both cities have high ozone readings in the north and west located monitors, while the south and east monitors are low ozone. (Mimms is correct that the dominant wind pattern is from the south east! A smoking gun?)

    For example, the following link lists all of the ozone monitors in San Antonio. The monitors on the east and south sides have readings in the 60’s (ppb). The north and west monitors are in the 70’s and 80’s.
    http://tceq.state.tx.us/cgi-bin/compliance/monops/8hr_4highest.pl

    Monitors maked with a bold N in the second column are un-official. You can click on any monitor and get detailed info on its location, with 4 photos of each monitor from N,E,W and S, and capabilties etc.

    Texas has fabulous reporting. Another link lets you look up the environments conditions of each monitor for each day of the year, going back to 1998. You can pull up a high ozone day for monitor x and find readings for all criteria pollutants, wind speed , wind direction, temps, etc etc.
    http://tceq.state.tx.us/cgi-bin/compliance/monops/monthly_summary.pl

    This provides further evidence that implicates coal fired power plants. I am a carpenter and will leave this to experts.

    I think Mims’ statement about VOC’s fooling ozone monitors is important to. Both San Antonio and Austin have ~200 miles of oak forests in their incoming air supply. There are at least 500 tons of isoprene coming into each city per day. Even if it only increased reading by 1 ppb, that would be significant. Ditto sulphur dioxide. (When Texas mandated low sulfur diesel, ozone levels fell the following year. I am going to send this to some lege friends. The EPA needs to be held accountable.

    • “This provides further evidence that implicates coal fired power plants. I am a carpenter and will leave this to experts.”

      No, it does not, association is not causation. Large cities with large number of cars and no coal plants much have higher levels of pollution than rural areas with coal plants.

      There are physical mechanisms that sometimes trap pollutants and cause elevated levels of pollutants. There is no magic physical process that concentrates pollutants from rural areas into cities.

      I worked in the nuclear industry and would love to blame coal plants for pollution.

      Texas cities have something in common with every other big city. Road clogged with big pickup trucks driven by type A personalities. This is fine with me because because avoiding big cities is easy.

      • Kit P wrote:
        ““This provides further evidence that implicates coal fired power plants. I am a carpenter and will leave this to experts.”

        No, it does not, association is not causation. Large cities with large number of cars and no coal plants much have higher levels of pollution than rural areas with coal plants. ”

        I did not assert causation. The word “implicate” implies causation, and I ask for experts to verify it.

        “There are physical mechanisms that sometimes trap pollutants and cause elevated levels of pollutants. There is no magic physical process that concentrates pollutants from rural areas into cities.”

        Yes there is. It isn’t magical but wind coming from the southeast (in San Antonio and Austin) has greatly elevated levels of pollutants like “mercury vapor, sulfur dioxide, VOCs and water vapor”, which according to the article above, can cause incorrect readings on ozone monitors. Wind coming from the northwest has greatly reduced levels of these pollutants. The monitors exceed on days when the wind is from the southeast and drop on days when it comes from the nothwest. Do you think a scientist should investigate?

        “I worked in the nuclear industry and would love to blame coal plants for pollution.”

        Great. I think we should have a lot more coal and nuclear plants, with appropriate emission controls. Several years ago Austin overhauled its coal plant. At that time they installed scrubbers. The following year our ozone values dropped. This is just another of my implications that tends to support Mimms’ article.

        “Texas cities have something in common with every other big city. Road clogged with big pickup trucks driven by type A personalities. This is fine with me because because avoiding big cities is easy.”

        Cars are part of the problem but a declining part. Austin has quadrupled the number of vehicle miles driven in recent years while seeing the total volume of emissions from cars fall. (Detroit is doing it’s part!) And type A personalities in congested traffic doesn’t matter anymore (pollution wise) because car computers now compensate for those conditions.

        The question you should be focused on is why, with the same number of cars on the road each day, why are some days low ozone and others high ozone. It’s (primarily) the wind, and coal plants, and defective ozone monitors and …

        Do you agree that it is a good idea to investigate this and replace the defective monitors?

  35. Dear Forrest, I am not sure that all UV-based ozone-meters have a mercury bias. When an instrument regularly (every xx minutes at least) makes a zero calibration, it sucks in ambient air, strips away ozone by pumping it through an absorber like black carbon and takes this measure as a zero ozone reference. If mercury vapor is still present in that zero reference, the normal reading being the difference between the ambient air measurement and this zero reference will cancel out the effect of mercury (and other VOC’s that would survive the ozone removing).
    Besides this topic, I would join all the peoples who admire you for your past achievements, and I am still a near daily user of your exquisite Microtops total ozone measuring instrument.

    • Mr Massen, I suspect you will find that an activated charcoal filter will adsorb mercury and VOCs at least as effectively as it will ozone. So while the zeroing process will deal with instrumental drift, it is likely useless when sorting out UV absorption by chemical species. Using a multi wavelength absorption spectrophotometer could potentially identify the various constituents, but you’d need to back it up with physical samples to confirm the optical instrument’s results.

  36. I believe in most cases the Federal Government SHOULD ONLY be making suggestions, and leaving most of the actual lawmaking and enforcement to the States.

    Every state has different needs. A huge valley in Cali needs harsher vehicle pollution standards than open air arizona.
    If Californians want to push for renewable energy, let them do it. Forcing other states to do it is not the idea we had when we created these United States.

    • Every state can have stricter regulation than federal regulations.

      The problems is many manufacturers will only meet CARB requirements so we are stuck with meeting California standards.

      One example is portable generators for RV and backup power for homes. A few can not be sold in California and they are cheaper.

  37. “Yes there is. It isn’t magical but wind coming … greatly elevated levels of pollutants l…..”

    Let me make this simple Vince, your statement is wrong. You do not understand that air quality is better around the the coal plants which are in rural areas. Level of pollution are much lower in rural areas generally.

    An exception would be stagnate wind conditions and a temperature inversion trapping the pollution around the power plant. In which case, coal plant pollutants would not be transported to the city.

    Again, the monitors are not defective. Investigation because ‘armature’ scientist do not understand the science are not required.

    • Retired Kit P

      eVince may have been inelegant and confused in his statement, but he’s not wrong. If we assume the city contributes 50 ppb to the ambient levels of O3, and that ambient measures 10 ppb to the NE and 30 ppb to the SW(where the coal fired power plant is) then A) the air around the plant is indeed better than the city air and B) the city air will only be over the 70 ppb limit when the wind is from the SW (10+50=60, 30+50=80).

      Secondarily, eVince did not claim the monitors were defective, the EPA did. Mr. Mims has pointed out that VOCs & mercury, both present in coal fired power plant exhaust, will cause a UV based ozone meter to read higher than it would with O3 alone. Unless the sensor has a method of measuring the concentration of confounding chemical species, the measurement is unreliable. (eg the +/- 20%)

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