Factors Influencing Mercury in Freshwater Surface Sediments of Northeastern North America
We report on an inventory and analysis of sediment mercury (Hg) concentrations from 579 sites across northeastern North America. Sediment Hg concentrations ranged from the limit of detection ca. 0.01–3.7 g g–1 (dry weight, d.w.), and the average concentration was 0.19 g g–1 (d.w.) Sediment methylmercury concentrations ranged from 0.15 to 21 ng g–1 (d.w.) and the mean concentration was 3.83 ng g–1 (d.w.). Total Hg concentrations (HgT) were greatest in lakes > reservoirs > rivers, although the proportion of Hg as methylmercury showed an inverse pattern. Total Hg was weakly and positively correlated with the sediment organic matter and percent of watershed as forested land, and weakly and negatively correlated with sediment solids content, drainage area, and agricultural land. Sediment methylmercury concentrations were weakly and positively correlated to wetland area, and weakly and negatively correlated to drainage area. Methylmercury, expressed as a percentage of HgT was positively correlated to agricultural land area. For sites with co-located sediment and fish-tissue sampling results, there was no relationship between sediment Hg and fish-tissue Hg. Finally, our data indicate that at least 44% of waters across the region have sediment HgT concentrations in excess of Canadian and United States minimum sediment contaminant guidelines for the protection of aquatic biota.