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UW Scientist Tracks Airborne Mercury From China

Doug Nadvornick

Smaller amounts of toxic pollution are falling out of the sky onto the Puget Sound basin than 20 years ago. That according to new federal research. But one independent scientist says the gains in the region are partially offset by more pollution blowing in from faraway foreign sources. Correspondent Doug Nadvornick explains.


Researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory focused mostly on domestic sources of air pollution in their recent study. Those include industrial plants in the Northwest. But Dan Jaffe has his eye on pollution from faraway places. Jaffe is a professor of environmental and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Washington's Bothell campus.

He says the Northwest is receiving more air pollution from China.

Dan Jaffe: "There's a lot of emissions associated with their coal burning. But it's not only coal, there's also a lot of vehicle use going on. And then all other kinds of industries: Smelting turns out to be an important one. There's a lot of residential heating that's done with coal as well."

Jaffe says highly–toxic mercury is a particularly troubling part of China's growing emissions. The Pacific Northwest Laboratory researchers say they measured a pretty big drop in mercury falling out of the air here over the last 20 years. But the decrease is not nearly as much as other heavy metals. They attribute that, in part, to mercury's ability to move long distances in the atmosphere.

I'm Doug Nadvornick reporting.

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