Summer/Fall 2006 – Mercury 2006

Edward Swain, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, addresses the socioeconomic plenary session. Photo: John Karl

1,150 Mercury Scientists Meet in Madison
Top Researchers Issue Declaration

Wisconsin Sea Grant was pleased to co-host and sponsor the largest gathering of mercury scientists ever assembled Aug. 6–11 in Madison, Wis. The Eighth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, attended by 1,150 scientists, government policymakers, and industry representatives, culminated in a “Conference Declaration,” issued by 37 leading researchers and summarizing current scientific understanding of mercury in the environment—where it’s emitted, how it affects people and wildlife, and what harm it does to societies and economies.

“The bottom line of the declaration is that mercury pollution is a problem of global magnitude,” said James Hurley, co-chair of the conference and assistant director for research and outreach at UW Sea Grant.

“The declaration was intended to succinctly convey to governments, policy makers, and the public around the world what scientists know about mercury in the environment,” said James Wiener, technical chair of the conference and Wisconsin Distinguished Professor at the UW–La Crosse River Studies Center.

The Conference Declaration summarizes a year-long effort of four panels of scientists who critically reviewed the last decade of mercury science, according to David Krabbenhoft, a research scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey and co-chair of the conference with Hurley. All 37 scientists on the panels endorsed the declaration in full, Krabbenhoft said.

The declaration also received strong support from participants at the conference, who were invited to express their opinion of the evidence supporting the experts’ findings in an on-line survey. Every point of the declaration was strongly supported by at least two-thirds of the respondents, and most individual “bullet points” garnered more than 90 percent support, Krabbenhoft said.

The technical portion of the conference featured four plenary sessions, more than 200 oral presentations and more than 800 poster presentations. The conference theme, “toward integration of science, policy, and socioeconomics,” was brought out in the four plenary sessions, which examined societal consequences of mercury pollution, recovery of mercury-contaminated fisheries, health risks and toxicological effects of methylmercury, and source attribution of atmospheric mercury deposition.

Videos of the four plenary sessions, the opening and closing ceremonies, and declaration news conference can be viewed on the conference Web site,

Five years of planning for the Conference Organizing Committee paid off handsomely in the many compliments the committee received about the technical content, logistics, and social events at the conference, Hurley said.

“It is one thing to put together a technical conference with high-quality science. What made this conference even more successful was the professionalism and hospitality exhibited by everyone involved,” he added.

Christopher Babiarz, an environmental chemist at the UW–Madison Water Science and Engineering Laboratory, served as conference secretariat, handling communications, crafting documents, arranging meetings, and tackling “just about anything that needed to be done.”

The full text of the Conference Declaration is available at

The next two International Conferences on Mercury as a Global Pollutant will be held June 7–12, 2009, in Guiyang, China, and July 24–30, 2011, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

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