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New England Coastal Basins Mercury Deposition Network
DISTRIBUTION OF TOTAL AND METHYL MERCURY IN WATER, SEDIMENT, AND FISH TISSUE IN NEW ENGLAND STREAMS
American Geophysical Union (AGU), May 29-June 2, 2001, Boston, Mass.
Ann Chalmers, Hydrologist,
U.S. Geological Survey,
Conditions that are conducive to the methylation of mercury are of particular concern because methyl mercury (MeHg) is the most toxic mercury species and is rapidly bioaccumulated and biomagnified in wildlife and man. The New England Coastal Basins study unit, as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water Quality Assessment program, has evaluated relations between concentrations of total mercury (HgT) and MeHg in stream water and bed sediment, and HgT in fish tissue at sites with a variety of watershed characteristics. Water and bed sediment were sampled during 1998 - 2000 from 55 stream sites from Rhode Island to Maine. Fish tissue was sampled at a subset of 27 sites. Sediment, water, and fish tissue samples were collected during summer low flow conditions within a week of each other to show patterns of MeHg accumulation and partitioning relative to site and watershed conditions. Concentrations of HgT in water and bed sediment ranged from 1 to 13 nanograms per liter (ng/L) and from 7 to 3,100 nanograms per gram (ng/g) dry weight, respectively. Concentrations of MeHg in water and sediment ranged from 0.04 to 1.8 ng/L and from 1 to 38 ng/g dry weight, respectively, and were positively correlated with concentrations of organic carbon. Methylation efficiency, as estimated by MeHg/HgT, ranged from 0.003 to 0.282 for sediment and water samples, with a median value of 0.071. Methylation efficiency was highest at sampling sites with low urbanization and high organic carbon concentrations. HgT concentrations in fish tissue (mixed sunfish species) ranged from 42 to 349 ng/g wet weight and were positively correlated with concentrations of MeHg in water and bed sediment. A positive relation was not observed between HgT concentrations in fish tissue and HgT concentrations in water and bed sediment. These preliminary results indicate a high potential for mercury bioaccumulation in aquatic organisms in New England streams.
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