Blog: Oceanic Coal Pollution, Epic Rate


Each year, the lion’s share of mercury poison comes from burning more than 8.3 billion tons of coal to provide energy for electricity grids. 

As a result of this insatiable addiction to coal, mercury toxicity has tripled in our oceans to over 80,000 tons of poison. Eighty-four percent of fish tested are laced with methyl-mercury, say scientists from the Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine. 

This work comes on the heels of research earlier this spring that found there’s so much toxic Asian air pollution from burning coal, it’s now changing global weather patterns.

China burns an astounding 69 percent (or over 5.7 billion tons) of all coal consumed on Earth. Mega tons of poisonous mercury vapor and other soot are making storms in the Pacific deeper, stronger, more intense, and causing heavier, more damaging rainfall patterns to occur. It’s predicted to get far worse. 

When mercury infiltrates our oceans, wetlands and forests it is in the organic form of methyl-mercury. It bio-accumulates in animals and bio-magnifies up the food chain. So, when it reaches apex-predators like tunas, eagles or humans it’s highly concentrated. Methyl-mercury is a horrid neuro-toxin. There is no such thing as a safe level of methyl-mercury. 

Mercury is a heavy metal; it irreversibly damages the human brain, kidneys and lungs. It impairs vision, hearing and speech, and permanently disrupts the central nervous system. In fact, mercury poisoning causes acrodynia, or Pink disease, Hunter-Russell syndrome and Minamata disease.

Alaskan polar bears, Californian bats, Floridian panthers, Australian seabirds, North Atlantic dolphins, Pacific Blue whales and 175 different kinds of animals from the northeastern United States have blood levels full of mercury poisoning.

These animals are vividly showing my colleagues just how polluted our planet has become. What we do to our oceans and animals, we do to ourselves.

It’s time for each of us to lend a helping hand. Together, our purchasing power is formidable. Please, purchase only renewable energies–or better still: go solar, go off-grid!

Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster and conservation biologist at Muse School. His forthcoming book is entitled “Shepherding the Sea: The Race to Save Our Oceans.”