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Tracking legacy mercury in the Hackensack River estuary using mercury stable isotopes

Reinfelder, John R., Janssen, Sarah E.
Journal of hazardous materials 2019 v.375 pp. 121-129
ecosystems, estuaries, habitats, marshes, mercury, mixing, organic matter, rivers, sediments, stable isotopes, statistical models, streams, water pollution, New Jersey
Spatial redistribution of legacy mercury (Hg) contamination in the Hackensack River estuary (New Jersey, USA) was evaluated using mercury stable isotopes. Total Hg varied from 0.06 to 3.8 μg g−1 in sediment from the tidal Hackensack River and from 15 to 154 μg g−1 near historically contaminated sites in upper Berry's Creek, a tributary of the Hackensack River. δ202Hg values for total Hg from Berry's Creek and Hackensack River estuaries varied over a fairly narrow range (−0.44‰ to −0.21‰), but were highest for sediment from upper Berry's Creek. Isotope mixing plots show that residual legacy mercury from upper Berry's Creek is partially diluted by a low concentration and low δ202Hg pool of mercury associated with low organic matter content sediments similar to those in Newark Bay. Based on an isotope mixing model, we estimate that upper Berry’s Creek contributes 21%–82% of the mercury in sediments in the Hackensack River estuary and its tidal tributaries, including upstream marsh habitats far from the primary source. Our results show that mercury stable isotopes can be used to track the redistribution of mercury in tidal ecosystems and highlight the potentially large areas which may be affected by legacy mercury contamination in estuaries.