Updated: 27 Jan., 2007
Mercury, Demon Destroyer of the Environment,
or Just Another Element in the Earth?

By Charles Kubach, Mine-Engineer.Com 27 January, 2007

Natural sources of mercury, such as volcanic eruptions and emissions from the ocean, have been estimated to contribute about a third of current worldwide mercury air emissions, whereas anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions account for the remaining two-thirds. Much of the mercury circulating through today's environment is mercury that was released years ago, when mercury was commonly used in many industrial products and processes. Land and water surfaces can repeatedly re-cycle mercury into the atmosphere after its initial release into the environment.

Further, since mercury is an element, it can not be destroyed, so all mercury that was ever released is still here. According to a USGS report " recent estimates indicate that of the approximately 200,000 tons of mercury emitted to the atmosphere since 1890, about 95 percent resides in terrestrial soils, about 3 percent in the ocean surface waters, and 2 percent in the atmosphere. More study is needed before it is possible to accurately assess the problem." That is right, over 200,000 tons of mercury are present, mostly in the soil of the planet. This mercury in the soil, is converted into mercury vapor by the sun, and go into the atmosphere from the soil. Mercury from the soil can also be transported to the water, through runoff from storms.

Additionally, the same USGS report stated that "According to the Expert Panel on Mercury Atmospheric Processes, 20 to 30 percent of the oceanic emission is from mercury originally mobilized by natural sources." And, perhaps the most overlooked fact by tree huggers, is that all mercury was formed at the same time the planet was formed, and is part of planet earth. Mercury is All Natural. There is no man made mercury. It just appears that since the industrial age, as mankind desired to change their world into a better, more productive place to live, more mercury was released into the atmosphere and soil, as a result of various activities. It has only been in the last half of the 20th century that harmful effects of mercury were known and science documented these effects, that we, as a civilized, educated and advanced society, have begun to control the mercury released. Industries have abandoned the practice of using mercury, except where there is no other feasible alternative, and the amount of mercury from many industries has ceased or diminished very significantly.

This brings us to the issue at hand, the demonizing of coal by the radical environmental movement. It is estimated, that in the US, about 87% of all new mercury emissions come from combustion, and this includes forest fires and other natural occurrences. However, in the United States, coal fired power plants do emit 48 tons of mercury per year. These radicals in the environmental movement do not ever consider the 200,000 tons of mercury that already exist in the soils and seas of the planet, but instead focus only on the coal industry, the electrical generation industry and the 48 tons per year they are adding to the 200,000 tons of mercury. They do this, so they can drive these industries out of existence, since all tree huggers hate mining and industry in general. They have marshaled their massive financial and legal organizations to go to war with industry in general and mining in particular.

One such left winged radical environmental organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, sued the EPA 13 years ago to regulate hazardous air pollutants from power plants, according to what they think is harmful. (Probably everything, both real and imagined.) Environmental groups, including the Defense Council, continuously criticize EPA's approach for not requiring all power plants to use the 'best available' pollution-control technology. Allowing tree huggers to set policy is like the shade tree mechanic repairing a automobile. They take one part off and replace it, then see if it starts. If not, they replace another part, and turn the key. This continues until they are either broke, or the auto actually starts.

The EPA and the DOE are attempting to come up with a rational solution to the problem, while the radical environmental organizations are just playing the "Devil's Advocate", to stir up emotional, baseless campaigns to raise funding, raise the fear level of the public and to attack every reasonable, scientific effort to provide both the electricity that a modern world requires, and to reduce the excess harmful effects of emissions from those industries.

The old saying that "Rome was not built in a day" is applicable here. The tree huggers live in Disneyland, an unrealistic fantasy land, where they hallucinate and believe their hallucinations to be reality. They want to legislate their deranged proposals into law and compel society to obey them. Hopefully, there are still enough reasonable people that can see through this fog of deception they perpetrate, and realize that in order to improve civilization, industry must exist, power must be a large part of our society, and that change must be carefully planned, and these plans put into action, where they will not result in the disruption of goods and services, while accomplishing the mitigation of the harmful effects, such as mercury emissions. The following paragraphs attempt to point out the problem, in relatively simple terms, without sacrificing the validity of the reams of scientific studies that have been conducted on the subject of mercury emissions.

With 757,000,000 tons of coal used annually in US power generation, the power generating industry would produce an average annual amount of mercury in the furnace of around 90 tons of mercury per year. Current pollution controls remove 30% to 60% of mercury, so this would leave 48 tons of mercury exiting the stacks per year. (DOE estimate)

The Clean Air Mercury Rule (EPA), when fully implemented, will reduce utility emissions of mercury from 48 tons a year to 15 tons, a reduction of nearly 70 percent. What will this cost the American utility and tax payers? There are many ways to attempt this reduction, but which ones will be most cost effective?

Again, the DOE Fossil Fuels Office has estimated that a near-term goal to develop mercury controls that can achieve 50 to 70 percent mercury capture at 50 to 75 percent of the cost of current powdered activated carbon injection (current cost estimates for activated carbon technology are in the range $50,000 to $70,000 per pound of mercury removal). These technologies would be available for commercial demonstration sometime this year.

That number is 'only' $4,620,000,000, to remove the 33 tons of mercury. That amounts to $4,26 per Mega Watt Hour of electricity, which in terms of individual use in KWH is $0.004/KWH. This is for the process or operating costs, though, and does not include the massive procurement and construction costs involved to purchase and install the new equipment required, which will be a likewise significant sum of money, in the billions of dollars range. But if the total cost will only add $0.01 to the cost of electricity, it does appear feasible and realistic. It will take some years and a lot of planning to do this, without interrupting the power flow to the utilities customers, though. This will be a gargantuan task to say the least. I would compare it to the steel mills in the 1950's and their pollution control implementation, which took over 10 years to implement.

According to the DOE, "A longer-term goal is to develop advanced mercury control technologies that can achieve 90 percent or greater capture at 50 to 75 percent of the cost of existing technologies and be available for commercial demonstration by 2010".

Ok, so they have a plan and it looks feasible, but what will all of this expense and turmoil accomplish? Well, according to the US DOE, the annual total global mercury emissions from all sources, natural and anthropogenic, are about 4,400 to 7,500 metric tons emitted per year. Further, they estimate that less than half of all mercury in the US comes from US sources. The remainder is deposited by the winds, blowing it across our shores. The UN estimates that emissions from US power generation accounts for only 1% of the global mercury emissions.

So, if we embark on this program to remove 33 tons per year of mercury from the 8,250 standard tons of mercury produced worldwide per year, this is 0.4% of the mercury production, it is not even a drop in the bucket. If China or India light one fire, the 33 tons will be back in the atmosphere, and headed our way. Remember, 50% of all mercury in the US comes from other countries. With the bulk of the mercury originating worldwide in Asia (China and India), until they decide to control their emissions, all of our efforts are in vain. If the tree huggers were serious about anything other than massing political power and money, they would move to China and India and sue those countries to stop mercury emissions. That would end in one of two ways. One, the tree huggers would disappear. Or, two, they might have some success and cause these countries to reduce their mercury emissions. But they are not interested in anything other than knee jerk reactionary stunts aimed at frightening the public into supporting their organizations financially and politically, giving them more control over our lives.

So, brace for another onslaught of pointless lawsuits form the environmental organizations and perhaps a new movie from Al Gore, 'Global Mercury, A Convenient Demon'. In the meantime, the EPA will enforce their laws to remove 33 tons of mercury from the stacks of the power generating industry, our cost of electricity will increase due to the increased cost associated with removing mercury from the power plant stacks and our air will contain more mercury, due to foreign sources. We will pay for another folly of the environmental movement in a seemingly endless parade of pointless campaigns aimed at dominating the political landscape with their extreme left winged philosophies.

I am not advocating that mercury is good, it is a scientific fact that it is toxic and at large concentrations in the air, soil and water, it has adverse effects on life. I am just saying the left wing does not have a clue, and none of their proposals stand a chance of working, but we all end up paying for them, until someone comes along with one that will work, but by that time, we might be either broke, or a ward of another country.

But that's just my opinion.
Charles Kubach

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