Assessment of Mercury

Assessment of Mercury in Vermont and New Hampshire Lakes 

Project Description

Throughout New England, there exists compelling data indicating that mercury in the environment is resulting in hazards to human health and wildlife. Notably, advisories to limit the consumption of a variety of fish species from freshwater lakes have been issued across northern New England in recent years. In response to this, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VTDEC) and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), in collaboration with Dr. Charles Driscoll from Syracuse University, conducted a three-year study of mercury in sediments, waters, and biota of Vermont and New Hampshire lakes. This cooperative project was sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) - Region 1, the USEPA Office of Research and Development in Athens, GA, VTDEC, and NHDES.

Collaborators to the project also included the Biodiversity Research Institute of Falmouth, Maine, Dr. Dan Engstrom of the Science Museum of Minnesota, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Region 10),Dartmouth University, The Ecosystems Research Group Ltd of Norwich, VT, and the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The goal of this project was to determine which larger, publicly used Vermont and New Hampshire lakes are of the type that 1) have excessive mercury in their sediments, 2) possess the conditions linked to processing mercury into its toxic form, and 3) have high mercury concentrations in plankton, fish, and fish-eating wildlife. The results of this study are being used to refine fish tissue consumption advisories in Vermont and New Hampshire, and to learn more about the process of bioaccumulation of mercury in freshwater biota. The results of this study provide baseline chemical and biological indicators against which future reductions of atmospherically emitted mercury can be measured.

This study has produced a large dataset that is compatible to those already existing in the State of Maine, and in the Adirondack region of New York. A concurrent EPA-sponsored sister project directly measured atmospheric deposition of mercury across New England.

The project measured total mercury and total methylmercury (the toxic form of mercury) in surface sediments and waters of 93 randomly-selected Vermont and New Hampshire lakes. The same lakes were tested for a variety of naturally occurring chemical constituents. A subset of these lakes also several biological compartments measured for mercury. These included large-bodied zooplankton, small (plankton-eating) yellow perch, large (fish-eating) yellow perch, and obligate piscivores such as loons, mergansers, and kingfishers. The project findings indicate that across VT and NH, 40% of lakes are likely to have relatively small fish that exceed EPA limits for allowable fish-tissue mercury. The project identified several factors as important in mediating these tissue levels. The reader is directed to the manuscript listed above, as well as the online project report, for complete findings.

This project also assessed historical patterns of atmospheric mercury deposition to Vermont and New Hampshire lakes. This was done by analyzing mercury from radiometrically dated sediment cores of 13 study lakes. Recent studies from Minnesota, Maine, and the Adirondacks of New York suggest that mercury accretion to lake sediments has decreased in recent years. These findings were clearly corroborated, and are discussed in the manuscript listed above.

Additional Resources

 Final Project Report (pdf, 3.1 MB) - provides comprehensive project methods, and data results and analyses.

Review of Select Scientific Literature Regarding Mercury (pdf, 97 KB). 
The following quality assurance documents are also available: 
Quality Assurance Project Plan (pdf, 125 KB) 
Quality Assurance Project Plan Addendum (pdf, 205 KB) 
Water Hg Sampling Protocol (pdf, 26 KB) 
Sediment Hg Sampling Protocol (pdf, 38 KB) 
Zooplankton Hg Sampling Protocol (pdf, 72 KB) 
The following peer-reviewed scientific journal articles have been authored from this study. These are available from the journals themselves, or from your nearby university library. A limited number of reprints are available on request: 

Kamman, N.C., P.M. Lorey, C.T. Driscoll, R. Estabrook, A, Major, B. Pientka, E. Glassford. 2004. Assessment of mercury in waters, sediments and biota of New Hampshire and Vermont lakes sampled using a geographically randomized design. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 23(5): in press.

Kamman, N.C. and D. R. Engstrom. 2002. Historical and present fluxes of mercury to Vermont and New Hampshire lakes inferred from 210Pb-dated sediment cores. Atmos. Environ. 36, 1599-1609.

For additional information regarding this project contact Neil Kamman

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