China is the Largest Emitter of Non-us Mercury Emissions in Us

Of the of the 140-170 tons per year of mercury currently being deposited onto the United States mainland each year, 2/3 originates in other countries. Of the approximately 100 tons arriving from other countries, roughly half originates on the Asian continent, mostly from China. Indian subcontinent emissions are also large; but due to geography and prevailing wind patterns, they appear to play a less prominent role in U.S. deposition.

Mercury in the food we eat

The most common source of mercury exposure for Americans is tuna fish. Tuna does not contain the highest concentration of mercury of any fish, but since Americans eat much more tuna than they do other mercury-laden fish, such as swordfish or shark, it poses a greater health threat. (For more, see NRDC guides to mercury levels in fish and to eating tuna safely.)

Subsistence and sports fishermen who eat their catch can be at a particularly high risk of mercury poisoning if they fish regularly in contaminated waters. Across the United States, mercury pollution is known to have contaminated 12 million acres of lakes, estuaries, and wetlands (30 percent of the total), and 473,000 miles of streams, rivers, and coasts. And many waterways have not even been tested. In 2003, 44 states issued fish consumption advisories, warning citizens to limit how often they eat certain types of fish caught in the state’s waters because they are contaminated with mercury.

Energy efficiency & Mercury: What’s the connection?

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury air emissions worldwide. Currently, coal-fired power plants supply seventy-five percent of China’s energy; in the next eight years, China is expected to add more than 560 plants coal plants — a pace of more than one new plant each week. China is not the sole source for all this transoceanic mercury pollution, but the robust expansion of its economy in recent decades implicates it as the primary source.

Energy efficiency offers a viable, environmentally sound alternative to the construction of additional coal fire powered plants. It is the cheapest, fastest solution available with already existing technology. The China-US Energy Efficiency Alliance is currently working with Chinese officials to implement large scale energy efficiency programs throughout China. Its work in the Jiangsu province has thus far resulted in a savings of 2 billion kWh of electricity annually and reducedCO2 emissions by1.84 million tons

How you can help

In supporting the Alliance by becoming a corporate partner you can help Alliance can help ensure that Jiangsu’s strategic blueprint is implemented, meaning that by 2015 they will save the equivalent of 26 large coal-powered powerplants, reducing total coal consumption by 167 millionand eliminating 613 and 8.6 million metric tons of carbon and sulfur dioxide emissions, respectively.


For information about how to safeguard your health against mercury, see