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Total Mercury and Methylmercury in Lake Water of Canada’s Oil Sands Region

Emmerton, Craig A., Cooke, Colin A., Wentworth, Gregory R., Graydon, Jennifer A., Ryjkov, Andrei, Dastoor, Ashu
Environmental science & technology 2018 v.52 no.19 pp. 10946-10955
climate change, ecosystems, guidelines, industrialization, industry, lakes, mercury, methylmercury compounds, models, oil sands, runoff, toxicity, water pollution, water quality, watersheds, Canada
Increased delivery of mercury to ecosystems is a common consequence of industrialization, including in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) of Canada. Atmospheric mercury deposition has been studied previously in the AOSR; however, less is known about the impact of regional industry on toxic methylmercury (MeHg) concentrations in lake ecosystems. We measured total mercury (THg) and MeHg concentrations for five years from 50 lakes throughout the AOSR. Mean lake water concentrations of THg (0.4–5.3 ng L–¹) and MeHg (0.01–0.34 ng L–¹) were similar to those of other boreal lakes and <5% of all samples exceeded Provincial water quality guidelines. Lakes with the highest THg concentrations were found >100 km northwest of oil sands mines and received runoff from geological formations high in metals concentrations. MeHg concentrations were highest in those lakes, and in smaller productive lakes closer to oil sands mines. Simulated annual average direct deposition of THg to sampled lakes using an atmospheric chemical transport model showed <2% of all mercury deposited to sampled lakes was emitted from oil sands activities. Consequently, spatial patterns of mercury in AOSR lakes were likely most influenced by watershed and lake conditions, though mercury concentrations in these lakes may be perturbed with future development and climatic change.