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Abandoned pipelines could release poisons into North Sea, scientists warn

Still Waters

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Decaying oil and gas pipelines left to fall apart in the North Sea could release large volumes of poisons such as mercury, radioactive lead and polonium-210, notorious for its part in the poisoning of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko, scientists are warning.

Mercury, an extremely toxic element, occurs naturally in oil and gas. It sticks to the inside of pipelines and builds up over time, being released into the sea when the pipeline corrodes.

Some methylmercury, the most toxic form of the metal, is released by the pipelines although other forms can be converted into it. The international Minamata convention on mercury states that high levels in dolphins, whales and seals can lead to “reproductive failure, behavioural changes and even death”. Seabirds and large predatory fish such as tuna and swordfish are also particularly vulnerable.


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