Speciation of Hg and conversion to methyl-Hg were evaluated in stream sediment, stream water, and aquatic snails collected downstream from the Bonanza Hg mine, Oregon. Total production from the Bonanza mine was >1360t of Hg, during mining from the late 1800s to 1960, ranking it as an intermediate sized Hg mine on an international scale. The primary objective of this study was to evaluate the distribution, transport, and methylation of Hg downstream from a Hg mine in a coastal temperate climatic zone. Data shown here for methyl-Hg, a neurotoxin hazardous to humans, are the first reported for sediment and water from this area. Stream sediment collected from Foster Creek flowing downstream from the Bonanza mine contained elevated Hg concentrations that ranged from 590 to 71,000ng/g, all of which (except the most distal sample) exceeded the probable effect concentration (PEC) of 1060ng/g, the Hg concentration above which harmful effects are likely to be observed in sediment-dwelling organisms. Concentrations of methyl-Hg in stream sediment collected from Foster Creek varied from 11 to 62ng/g and were highly elevated compared to regional baseline concentrations (0.11-0.82ng/g) established in this study. Methyl-Hg concentrations in stream sediment collected in this study showed a significant correlation with total organic C (TOC, R2=0.62), generally indicating increased methyl-Hg formation with increasing TOC in sediment. Isotopic-tracer methods indicated that several samples of Foster Creek sediment exhibited high rates of Hg-methylation. Concentrations of Hg in water collected downstream from the mine varied from 17 to 270ng/L and were also elevated compared to baselines, but all were below the 770ng/L Hg standard recommended by the USEPA to protect against chronic effects to aquatic wildlife. Concentrations of methyl-Hg in the water collected from Foster Creek ranged from 0.17 to 1.8ng/L, which were elevated compared to regional baseline sites upstream and downstream from the mine that varied from <0.02 to 0.22ng/L. Aquatic snails collected downstream from the mine were elevated in Hg indicating significant bioavailability and uptake of Hg by these snails. Results for sediment and water indicated significant methyl-Hg formation in the ecosystem downstream from the Bonanza mine, which is enhanced by the temperate climate, high precipitation in the area, and high organic matter.
Additional publication details
Methylation of Hg downstream from the Bonanza Hg mine, Oregon
Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center