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Soil samples reveal urban mercury footprints
Date:7/19/2011

INDIANAPOLIS Indianapolis, St. Louis, Detroit, Buffalo, Richmond and Providence cities scattered across the eastern half of the United States have something in common, all have coal-fired power plants. A new study from the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is among the first to investigate mercury deposits in industrialized city soil near this type of facility.

The study, which appears in the July 2011 issue of the journal Water, Air & Soil Pollution, reports that measurable amounts of the mercury emitted by coal-fired power plants is deposited in local soil and subsequently enters regional watersheds, contaminating fish and making them unsafe for human consumption.

Previous research on the spread of environmental mercury has focused on waterways. The IUPUI researchers looked at land, testing soil samples, detecting hot spots of mercury contamination in central Indiana specifically tied to local coal-fired power plants by chemical signatures. Winds blew the mercury contaminated soil to the northeast and the natural flow of waterways brought the mercury back to the southwest, far into bucolic appearing areas frequented by anglers.

While wind patterns vary by cities, the process in various urban areas is similar with mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants contaminating soil that is then transported downstream. Since cities have a high percentage of impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots, the mercury enters waterways rapidly.

"Mercury from coal-fired power plants has been found in the ice at the North and the South Poles, so the fact that these noxious emissions are swept far away to other areas or even continents, with global environmental impact, is well known. What had not been previously shown is the impact of the mercury on the environments in cities, suburbs and rural areas near specific coal-burning power plants," said senior author Gabriel M. Filippelli, Ph.
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Contact: Cindy Fox Aisen
caisen@iupui.edu
317-274-7722
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Science
Source:Eurekalert  

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