Nav: Home

Traditional Tibetan medicine exposes people and environment to high mercury levels

July 18, 2018

Many people view the Tibetan Plateau, or "Roof of the World," as a pristine alpine environment, largely untouched by pollution. But researchers, reporting in ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology, have now shown that traditional Tibetan medicine (TTM) exposes people and the environment to high levels of mercury and methylmercury.

Used by Tibetans for more than 1,000 years, TTM is a complex concoction of herbs and minerals in pill form. Pharmacists often add minerals to TTM that might contain mercury and other heavy metals in the belief that they have therapeutic effects. High levels of total mercury have been reported in TTM, but until now nobody has analyzed the amount of methylmercury - one of the most toxic forms of the element. Xuejun Wang and coworkers wanted to understand the life cycle of mercury and methylmercury from their ingestion in TTM to their release into the environment.

The researchers began by measuring total mercury and methylmercury concentrations in seven commonly used types of TTM. With this information, they estimated that the average probable daily intake of total mercury by Tibetans was 34-fold higher than in a region of China specializing in mercury mining and 200¬-3,000-fold higher than in Japan, Norway and the U.S. Probable intake of methylmercury was also higher in Tibet than in the other regions, except for in Japan, where high amounts of marine fish (another source of methylmercury) are consumed. In 2015, Tibetans excreted about 1,900 pounds of total mercury, mostly from TTM, into municipal sewage treatment plants and released about 7,900 pounds directly into the environment, the researchers estimated. Only about 3.2 ounces of methylmercury likely entered municipal sewage. However, actual methylmercury levels could be much higher because bacteria in sewage might convert inorganic mercury into the more toxic form, the researchers say.
-end-
The authors acknowledge funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Dartmouth College National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Superfund Program.

The paper's abstract will be available on July 18 at 8 a.m. Eastern time here: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.8b01754

The American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, is a not-for-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS is a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

For more research news, journalists and public information officers are encouraged to apply for complimentary press registration for the American Chemical Society's 256th National Meeting & Exposition, Aug. 19-23 in Boston.

To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society, contact newsroom@acs.org.

Follow us: Twitter | Facebook

American Chemical Society

Related Mercury Articles:

New nanomaterial to replace mercury
Ultraviolet light is used to kill bacteria and viruses, but UV lamps contain toxic mercury.
Wildfire ash could trap mercury
In the summers of 2017 and 2018, heat waves and drought conditions spawned hundreds of wildfires in the western US and in November, two more devastating wildfires broke out in California, scorching thousands of acres of forest, destroying homes and even claiming lives.
Removing toxic mercury from contaminated water
Water which has been contaminated with mercury and other toxic heavy metals is a major cause of environmental damage and health problems worldwide.
Fish can detox too -- but not so well, when it comes to mercury
By examining the tissues at a subcellular level, the researchers discovered yelloweye rockfish were able to immobilize several potentially toxic elements within their liver tissues (cadmium, lead, and arsenic) thus preventing them from interacting with sensitive parts of the cell.
Chemists disproved the universal nature of the mercury test
The mercury test of catalysts that has been used and considered universal for 100 years, turned out to be ambiguous.
Mercury rising: Are the fish we eat toxic?
Canadian researchers say industrial sea fishing may be exposing people in coastal and island nations to excessively high levels of mercury.
New estimates of Mercury's thin, dense crust
Michael Sori, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, used careful mathematical calculations to determine the density of Mercury's crust, which is thinner than anyone thought.
Understanding Mercury's magnetic tail
Theoretical physicists used simulations to explain the unusual readings collected in 2009 by the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging mission.
Mercury is altering gene expression
Mercury causes severe neurological disorders in people who have consumed highly contaminated fish.
Climate changes may lead to more poisonous mercury in plankton
Global warming is expected to increase runoff and input of organic matter to aquatic ecosystems in large regions of the Northern hemisphere including the Baltic Sea.
More Mercury News and Mercury Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.