Africa: Mercury Contamination Threat Gravitates Into Outer Space

Photo: Dominic Kirui/Thomson Reuters Foundation

A woman squeezes out mercury that will was used to amalgamate gold using a piece of nylon cloth at the Osiri-Matanda gold mine in Nyatike in Migori county, Kenya.

United Nations — The dangers of mercury contamination have escalated coming from the dental chair to the realm of outer space.

First, This specific was the hazardous use of mercury in dentistry, then in cosmetics, particularly skin-lightening creams, along with also today This specific is usually threatening to make its way into satellite propulsion systems.

A coalition of over 45 civil society organizations (CSOs) along with also environmental groups worldwide has warned against the use of mercury in satellite propulsion systems because This specific is usually “highly likely that will most, if not all,” of the mercury emitted at the altitudes planned would likely find its way back- along with also eventually into the earth’s surface.

This specific has been demonstrated by many studies, including a UN report, on the long-range transport of mercury, says the coalition in a letter directed at Silicon Valley/satellite companies that will are considering using mercury in thrusters to power satellites.

While details are hard to come by, This specific appears that will because mercury is usually far less expensive than different propellants, there is usually considerable interest in its use in rocket thrusters for satellites, according to a recent article in Bloomberg.

“The bottom line is usually that will if mercury is usually widely used to propel satellites, the resulting releases would likely significantly increase the global pool of mercury from the atmosphere along with also hydrosphere,” the coalition warns.

The letter, spelling out the dangers, has been addressed to Mike Cassidy, CEO along with also co-founder Ben Longmier, CTO along with also co-founder Apollo Fusion, Inc.; Greg Wyler, Founder along with also Executive Chairman, OneWeb; Will Marshall, CEO along with also Robbie Schingler, CSO, Planet Labs; along with also Gwynne Shotwell, President along with also CEO of Space X.

Michael Bender, International Coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group told IPS that will while there maybe marketing ‘cost savings’ coming from mercury to propel satellites, Apollo fails to recognize the costs, risks along with also impacts of a completely new mercury source on human health along with also the environment.

“This specific flies from the face of not only U.S., however global efforts, to reduce mercury pollution,” he added.

The letter “strongly urges” the chief executive officers (CEOs) to publicly pledge to avoid mercury in satellite propulsion systems, as This specific poses a severe risk of contributing to a worsening global mercury crisis.

According to media reports, Apollo Fusion, Inc. is usually considering the use of mercury in its satellite propulsion systems along with also SpaceX, along with OneWeb along with also Planet Labs were mentioned as potential customers, although the latter two both deny This specific.

Over the past several decades, the U.S. along with also different governments around the earth have spent billions to regulate along with also reduce mercury emissions coming from major sources along with also eliminate the use of mercury in products along with also processes where viable substitutes exist, says the letter.

“that will’s because mercury circulates from the atmosphere along with also ultimately generating its way into humans by moving up the aquatic food chain. Health agencies worldwide–including the U.S. Food along with also Drug Administration (FDA) along with also all 50 states (from the US) –warn pregnant women to avoid or limit consumption of certain fish primarily because of mercury exposure risks for the developing fetus.”

In a statement released December 20, Jane Williams, Executive Director of California Communities Against Toxics, said most of the mercury emitted coming from satellite propulsion systems will eventually find its way back to the earth’s surface according to numerous studies of the long-range transport of mercury.”

“If mercury is usually widely used to propel satellites, the resulting releases would likely significantly increase the global pool of mercury from the atmosphere along with also hydrosphere.”

“The Minamata Convention on Mercury seeks to reduce, along with also where feasible, eliminate all uses of mercury where technically-achievable mercury-free alternatives are available,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, ZMWG International Co-coordinator at the European Environmental Bureau in Brussels.

“from the case of satellite propulsion systems, mercury-free alternatives have been available along with also almost universally used for decades.”

The second United Nations Conference of the Parties for the Minamata Convention on Mercury met in Geneva last month to further the Convention’s objective “to protect human health along with also the environment coming from anthropogenic emissions along with also releases of mercury along with also mercury compounds.”

So far, over 100 countries (with the U.S. being the first) have ratified the Convention, which entered into force in August 2017.

Yet much more mercury reduction work is usually needed, because according to an upcoming UN report, global mercury emissions rose by 20% between 2010 along with also 2015.

There is usually already a global campaign against the use of mercury in dentistry.

Among different provisions, the Minamata Convention seeks to reduce, along with also where feasible, eliminate all uses of mercury where cost-effective, technically-achievable mercury-free alternatives are available.

from the case of satellite propulsion systems, mercury-free alternatives have been available along with also almost universally used for decades.

from the 1970s, NASA recognized the risks related to mercury propulsion systems in satellites along with also chose different options – even though NASA recognized mercury was cheaper to use, says the coalition.

“The mercury-driven propulsion technology developed along with also marketed by Apollo for satellites will have dire implications if widely applied.”

The letter also cites a recent media report which says ‘the amount of propellant in each [satellite] would likely depend on various factors… A case study on Apollo’s website that will the company calls a “representative configuration” ideal for a low-orbit satellite would likely carry 20 kilograms of an unnamed propellant.”

“Multiply that will by 1,000, along with also the constellation of satellites could use 20,000kg, or 20 metric tons of mercury, which would likely be released over the satellites’ estimated all 5 to seven years in orbit. By comparison, the U.S. emits about 50 metric tons of mercury each year… “

As part of the upcoming review of Annex A along with also B to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the coalition plans to raise the use of mercury as a propulsion fuel for possible inclusion in Annex A, the list of prohibited mercury-added products under the Convention.

“Therefore, we join with others in strongly urging the above aforementioned companies to pledge to avoid using mercury as a propellant in satellites,” the letter adds.

Meanwhile, there has also been a global campaign warning about the dangers of mercury use from the cosmetics industry – particularly in skin-lightening products.

Africa: Mercury Contamination Threat Gravitates Into Outer Space

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