Toxic chemical discovered in San Francisco’s fog

Toxic chemical discovered in San Francisco’s fog
Credit: Paul Chinn

Scientists who studied the fog along the coast of California found that it deposits a neurotoxin called monomethyl mercury — at a concentration about 20 times that of rain — as it sweeps across the city.

The scientists said the finding reveals a new pathway to land of a compound that comes largely from burning coal and other fossil fuels.

“On a relative scale, the levels of mercury are quite low and of no health concern,” said Peter Weiss-Penzias, a professor at UC Santa Cruz. “But it does bioaccumulate,” or build up in organisms.

Weiss-Penzias, an environmental toxicologist, first thought to study fog as he rode his bike to work early one morning. With condensation building up on his glasses, a question came to his mind: “What exactly is in this stuff?”

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