Chasing Quicksilver Through the Mountains

Professor and SyracuseCoE associate Charles Driscoll and colleagues from the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation (HBRF) and Clarkson University have released the results of two new landmark studies that identify five known and nine suspected biological mercury hotspots in the northeastern US.

The findings suggest that coal-fired power plants in the US are major contributors to mercury pollution. One of the mercury hotspots occurs within New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

The studies are the result of a three-year effort by Driscoll and his collaborators, including Tom Holsen of Clarkson University.

In January 2007, Driscoll and his team briefed Congress, and the studies spurred Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to announce her intention to introduce legislation creating a nationwide mercury monitoring network. Collins also intends to reintroduce legislation that would require power plants to reduce  mercury emissions by 90%.

The HBRF team of 11 scientists used a database of more than 7,300 samples to quantify mercury levels in fish, loons, and other wildlife at lakes and reservoirs from New York to Nova Scotia. “We were surprised to find that the Adirondacks had some of the highest mercury levels in fish and loons in the Northeast,” says Driscoll, Professor of Environmental Systems Engineering at the LC Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science. “The average mercury levels in yellow perch were more than twice the human health criterion established by the US Environmental Protection Agency.”

Adapted from an article by Kelly Homan Rodoski in Syracuse Engineer, Spring 2007.