While cutting back on mercury at home, the U.S. exports it abroad

Like Mickey said, it’s a small world after all, and pollution that gets exported can end up coming back home. Case in point: mercury, a neurotoxin especially dangerous to children and women of childbearing age. The U.S. is cutting down on the use of mercury, and has passed laws to limit mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. But there’s plenty left in the system, and when it’s extracted in the recycling process, it’s often sold overseas via an almost completely unregulated commodity market. It’s used in developing countries in gold mines and chemical plants, then spewed back in the air, where some of it can drift — you guessed it — right back over into U.S. waters. Enviros say the metal should be safely stored rather than sent across the globe, and legislators are listening: The European Union has proposed ending mercury exports, and a new bill introduced by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) would do the same in the U.S.