"This Much Mercury . . ."
Sound familiar? Sharp-eyed photographer Michael Udelson spotted this unusual public-service message on the marquee of Kahn & Keville, a tire and auto-service shop in San Francisco's gritty Tenderloin district. The reference is to longtime-Sierra contributor Dashka Slater's story about mercury hazards from coal-fired power plants in our November/December 2011 issue. I asked K&K co-owner Bill Brinnon why the issue caught his attention. "It seemed like something people ought to be thinking about," he said. "That phrase seemed irreducible--plus the article backed it up with facts. It was also something we had enough letters for--that's always a consideration."
Brinnon says that, thus far, customer reponse has been entirely positive, although one did express surprise at the tiny amount of mercury involved--a common reaction to Sierra Art Director Tracy Cox's striking graphic (below). It may be easier to get one's head around it if you remember the mechanism of deposition. Mercury doesn't ordinarily get into lakes by means of someone breaking an old-style thermometer and spilling the contents; it gets there when fine particles blown from a coal-fired power plant settle down over the water. Whichever way you look at it, it doesn't take much.
--Photo by Michael Udelson