William & Mary

Global Inquiry Group focuses on mercury

  • College takes on mercury
    College takes on mercury  Dan Cristol and Sharon Zuber are coordinators of a cross-disciplinary effort at the College of William and Mary to address mercury pollution.  
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Mercury contamination is a problem at local, national and international levels. As a pollutant, mercury is an international traveler as well as a toxic couch potato. In Virginia's Shenandoah River, mercury sticks around to trouble the waters near where it was dumped decades ago, while pollution from China's coal-burning, mercury-spewing power plants has crossed not only China's borders but also the Pacific Ocean.

{{youtube:medium|rQguueyuw04, Newman and Zuber discuss their book on mercury pollution.}}

Given the magnitude of the mercury problem, it is appropriate that mercury pollution be the subject of one of the first sustained Global Inquiry Groups sponsored by the Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies  at the College of William and Mary. These “sGIGs,” as they are known, represent a new instructional and research format. The idea is to bring students and faculty from many departments into a collaborative effort to examine a subject from many points of view.

The mercury sGIG includes the work of biologist Dan Cristol, who has shown that methylated mercury in the Shenandoah is no longer a strictly aquatic problem but is getting into the area songbirds—even those that do not eat insects from the river.

Mike Newman from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science joined the GIG. Newman, who literally wrote the book on ecotoxicology, worked with Sharon Zuber of the College's English department to bring about an exchange program with Xiong Li of China Central China Normal University. Through the exchange program, William and Mary students studied mercury problems in China and Chinese students journeyed to Virginia.