Mercury Rising: Natural wildfires release pollutant

1:24pm, August 23, 2006

Fires in high-latitude forests and peaty soils of the Northern Hemisphere may loft hundreds of tons of mercury into the atmosphere each year, much more than scientists had expected, a new analysis suggests.

Much of the world's industrial emissions of this toxic pollutant originates from the burning of coal contaminated with the element. "When it comes back to the ground, mercury forms strong chemical bonds with organic material, so it often gets locked away in rich forest soils and in peat," says Merritt R. Turetsky, an ecologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

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