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Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5115

Prepared in Cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Mercury in Waters, Soils, and Sediments of the New Jersey Coastal Plain: A Comparison of Regional Distribution and Mobility with the Mercury Contamination at the William J. Hughes Technical Center, Atlantic County, New Jersey

By Julia L. Barringer, Zoltan Szabo, and Pamela A. Reilly

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (4.82 MB)Abstract

Mercury in soils, surface water, and groundwater at the William J. Hughes Technical Center , Atlantic County, New Jersey, has been found at levels that exceed established background concentrations in Coastal Plain waters, and, in some cases, New Jersey State standards for mercury in various media. As of 2012, it is not known whether this mercury is part of regional mercury contamination or whether it is related to former military activities. Regionally, groundwater sup­plying about 700 domestic wells in the New Jersey Coastal Plain is contaminated with mercury that appears to be derived from anthropogenic inputs, such as agricultural pesticide use and atmospheric deposition. High levels of mercury occasion­ally are found in Coastal Plain soils, but disturbance during residential development on former agricultural land is thought to have mobilized any mercury applied during farming, a hypothesis borne out by experiments leaching mercury from soils. In the unsewered residential areas with mercury-contam­inated groundwater, septic-system effluent is believed to create reducing conditions in which mercury sorbed to subsoils is mobilized to groundwater.

In comparing the levels of mercury found in soils, sedi­ments, streamwater, and groundwater at the William J. Hughes Technical Center site with those found regionally, mercury concentrations in groundwater in the region are, in some cases, substantially higher than those found in groundwater at the William J. Hughes Technical Center site. Nevertheless, concentrations of mercury in streamwater at the site are, in some instances, higher than most found regionally. The mer­cury contents in soils and sediment at the William J. Hughes Technical Center site are substantially higher than those found to date (2012) in the region, indicating that a source other than regional sources may be present at the site.

First posted October 18, 2012

For additional information contact:
Director, New Jersey Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
810 Bear Tavern Road, Suite 206
West Trenton, NJ 08628
http://nj.usgs.gov/

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Suggested citation:

Barringer, J.L., Szabo, Zoltan, and Reilly, P.A., 2012, Mercury in waters, soils, and sediments of the New Jersey Coastal Plain: A comparison of regional distribution and mobility with the mercury contamination at the William J. Hughes Technical Center, Atlantic County, New Jersey: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5115, 34 p., available only at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2012/5115.



Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Description of Regional Study Area

Regional Levels and Distribution of Mercury in the New Jersey Coastal Plain

Groundwater

Soils and Streambed Sediments

Surface Water

Possible Sources of Inorganic Mercury in the New Jersey Coastal Plain

Anthropogenic Sources

Atmospheric Deposition

Agricultural Chemicals

Household Sources

Other Anthropogenic Sources

Natural Sources

Factors Affecting Mobility

Mercury Forms

Other Constituents

Methylmercury

Summary of Mercury Found at the William J. Hughes Technical Center

Site Description and History

Area Hydrology

Mercury in Soils and Sediments

Mercury in Groundwater and Streamwater

Methylmercury in Sediment and Water

Comparison of Mercury Levels at the William J. Hughes Technical Center with Levels Found Regionally in Southern New Jersey

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited


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