19 Mar 2018 Story Chemicals & waste

#FridayFact: There is more mercury stored in Northern Hemisphere permafrost than anywhere else in the world!

We tend to associate polar regions with vast stretches of white ice. Yet we rarely think of the permafrost - a layer of soil or bedrock that has been continuously frozen for years.

By thawing permafrost in the Arctic, climate change is not only freeing vast amounts of carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere. It could also stand to release another harmful substance into our air and waters.

Paul Schuster of the US Geological survey together with his team analysed 13 permafrost soil cores in Alaska. He estimates that there is now more than twice as much mercury in Northern Hemisphere permafrost than anywhere else in the world[i].

If released into the atmosphere or waters, mercury – which is highly toxic in certain forms - could enter the food chain of marine wildlife and indigenous peoples.

UN Environment hosts the Secretariat of the Minamata Convention in Geneva. Under the convention, countries have agreed to ban the import and export of mercury by 2020 to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of the heavy metal.

Read more on the Minamata Convention here and our work on all forms of chemical pollution here.

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[1] Mercury multiplied, Nature climate change journal, March 2018: http://go.nature.com/2tSEV2C