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Total Mercury and Methylmercury in Fish Fillets, Water, and Bed Sediments from Selected Streams in the Delaware River Basin, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, 1998-2001

U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4183

By Robin A. Brightbill, Karen Riva-Murray, Michael D. Bilger, and John D. Byrnes


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ABSTRACT

Within the Delaware River Basin, fish-tissue samples were analyzed for total mercury (tHg). Water and bed-sediment samples were analyzed for tHg and methylmercury (MeHg), and methylation efficiencies were calculated. This study was part of a National Mercury Pilot Program conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The Delaware River Basin was chosen because it is part of the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program that integrates physical, chemical, and biological sampling efforts to determine status and trends in surface-water and ground-water resources.

Of the 35 sites in the study, 31 were sampled for fish. The species sampled at these sites include smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), the target species, and where smallmouth bass could not be collected, brown trout (Salmo trutta), chain pickerel (Esox niger), largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), and rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris). There were a total of 32 fish samples; 7 of these exceeded the 0.3 microgram per gram wet-weight mercury (Hg) concentration set for human health by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and 27 of these exceeded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service criteria of 0.1 microgram per gram wet weight for the protection of fish-eating birds and wildlife.

Basinwide analysis of Hg in fish, water, and bed sediment showed tHg concentration in fillets correlated positively with population density, urban land cover, and impervious land surface. Negative correlations included wetland land cover, septic density, elevation, and latitude. Smallmouth bass from the urban sites had a higher median concentration of tHg than fish from agricultural, low intensity-agricultural, or forested sites. Concentrations of tHg and MeHg in water were higher in samples from the more urbanized areas of the basin and were positively correlated with urbanization and negatively correlated with forested land cover. Methylation efficiency of water was negatively correlated with urbanization. Bed-sediment patterns were similar to those observed in water. Concentrations of tHg were higher in samples from the urbanized areas. In the more forested areas, MeHg concentrations were higher than in other land-use areas. Concentrations of tHg in bed sediment were positively correlated with urbanization factors (population, urban land cover, and impervious land surface) and negatively correlated with forested land cover and elevation. Forested land cover and latitude were positively correlated with concentrations of MeHg. The methylation efficiency was higher in samples from the forested areas and was negatively correlated with urbanization.

Analyses within land-use groups showed that tHg concentrations in fish fillets from the urban sites were positively correlated with forested land cover and wetland cover. Urbanization factors within the agricultural group were positively correlated with tHg in fish; concentrations of tHg in fish from sites in the low intensity-agricultural group were negatively correlated with urbanization factors. Within the agricultural land-use group, tHg concentrations in water were negatively correlated with septic density, and MeHg concentrations were negatively correlated with elevation. In the forested and low intensity-agricultural groups, MeHg in water was negatively correlated with forested and agricultural land cover. Methylation efficiency in water also was negatively correlated with forested land cover but positively correlated with agricultural land cover. Bed-sediment concentrations of tHg in the forested and low-agricultural groups were positively correlated with agricultural land cover and negatively correlated with forested land cover. Concentrations of MeHg in bed sediment were positively correlated with septic density and drainage area and negatively correlated with forested land cover. Methylation efficiency was negatively correlated with population density, agricultural land cover, and sulfate concentrations in water.

An urbanization effect was observed in all three media—fish, water, and bed sediment. Different factors, basinwide and within land-use groups, showed a complex relation. Additional sampling within these land-use groups could help characterize interrelations of Hg in the environment to fish in the Delaware River Basin.

Table of Contents

Abstract
Introduction
     Description of Study Area
     Acknowledgments
Methods
     Fish, streamwater, and bed-sediment sampling
     Fish, streamwater, and bed-sediment laboratory analysis procedures
     Quality Control
     Data Analysis
Distribution and Concentrations of Total Mercury and Methylmercury
     Patterns of Distribution
     Concentrations
          Human-Health and Wildlife Criteria
          Factors Affecting Concentrations
               Fish Fillets
               Streamwater
               Bed Sediment
               Differences Among Land-Use Groups
     Comparison of Results with the National Mercury Pilot Program and Other Studies
Summary and Conclusions
References Cited
Appendix     

This report is available online in Portable Document Format (PDF). If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader, it is available for free download from Adobe Systems Incorporated.

View the full report in PDF 18.5 MB

For more information about USGS activities in Pennsylvania contact:
Director
USGS Pennsylvania Water Science Center
215 Limekiln Road
New Cumberland, Pennsylvania 17070
Telephone: (717) 730-6960
Fax: (717) 730-6997
or access the USGS Water Resources of Pennsylvania home page at:
http://pa.water.usgs.gov/.

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