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Open-File Report 2009–1285

Mercury in Sediment, Water, and Biota of Sinclair Inlet, Puget Sound, Washington, 1989-2007

By Anthony J. Paulson, Morgan E. Keys, and Kelly L. Scholting


Historical records of mercury contamination in dated sediment cores from Sinclair Inlet are coincidental with activities at the U.S. Navy Puget Sound Naval Shipyard; peak total mercury concentrations occurred around World War II. After World War II, better metallurgical management practices and environmental regulations reduced mercury contamination, but total mercury concentrations in surface sediment of Sinclair Inlet have decreased slowly because of the low rate of sedimentation relative to the vertical mixing within sediment. The slopes of linear regressions between the total mercury and total organic carbon concentrations of sediment offshore of Puget Sound urban areas was the best indicator of general mercury contamination above pre-industrial levels. Prior to the 2000–01 remediation, this indicator placed Sinclair Inlet in the tier of estuaries with the highest level of mercury contamination, along with Bellingham Bay in northern Puget Sound and Elliott Bay near Seattle. This indicator also suggests that the 2000/2001 remediation dredging had significant positive effect on Sinclair Inlet as a whole. In 2007, about 80 percent of the area of the Bremerton naval complex had sediment total mercury concentrations within about 0.5 milligrams per kilogram of the Sinclair Inlet regression. Three areas adjacent to the waterfront of the Bremerton naval complex have total mercury concentrations above this range and indicate a possible terrestrial source from waterfront areas of Bremerton naval complex. Total mercury concentrations in unfiltered Sinclair Inlet marine waters are about three times higher than those of central Puget Sound, but the small numbers of samples and complex physical and geochemical processes make it difficult to interpret the geographical distribution of mercury in marine waters from Sinclair Inlet.

Total mercury concentrations in various biota species were compared among geographical locations and included data of composite samples, individual specimens, and caged mussels. Total mercury concentrations in muscle and liver of English sole from Sinclair Inlet ranked in the upper quarter and third, respectively, of Puget Sound locations. For other species, concentrations from Sinclair Inlet were within the mid-range of locations (for example, Chinook salmon). Total mercury concentrations of the long-lived and higher trophic rockfish in composites and individual specimens from Sinclair Inlet tended to be the highest in Puget Sound. For a given size, sand sole, graceful crab, staghorn sculpin, surf perch, and sea cucumber individuals collected from Sinclair Inlet had higher total mercury concentrations than individuals collected from non-urban estuaries. Total mercury concentrations in individual English sole and ratfish were not significantly different than in individuals of various sizes collected from either urban or non-urban estuaries in Puget Sound. Total mercury concentrations in English sole collected from Sinclair Inlet after the 2000–2001 dredging appear to have lower total mercury concentrations than those collected before (1996) the dredging project. The highest total mercury concentrations of mussels caged in 2002 were not within the Bremerton naval complex, but within the Port Orchard Marina and inner Sinclair Inlet.

For additional information contact:
Director, Washington Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
934 Broadway, Suite 300
Tacoma, Washington 98402

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Suggested citation:

Paulson, A.J., Keys, M.E., and Scholting, K.L., 2010, Mercury in sediment, water, and biota of Sinclair Inlet, Puget Sound, Washington, 1989–2007: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1285, 220 p.




Purpose and Scope

Site Description

History of Remediation and Environmental Investigations Related to Mercury

Mercury in the Sediment of Sinclair Inlet

Mercury in Marine Waters of Sinclair Inlet

Mercury in Biota of Sinclair Inlet

Observations to be Considered for Future Sampling Efforts



References Cited

Appendix A. Evaluation of the Quality of Available Data for Marine Sediment, Marine Water, and Biota.

Appendix B. Listings of Sediment Data Examined

Appendix C. Relations Between Ancillary Sediment Parameters

Appendix D. Core Profiles from the Operable Units A and B Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Studies from the Confined Aquatic Disposal Pit for the Long-Term Monitoring Program, from the Special Transport Study, and from the Environment Investment (Envvest) Project

Appendix E. Residuals for Long-Term Monitoring Program

Appendix F. Listings of Biological Data Examined

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