Stream sediment, stream water, and fish were collected from a broad region to evaluate downstream transport and dispersion of mercury (Hg) from inactive mines in the Monte Amiata Hg District (MAMD), Tuscany, Italy. Stream sediment samples ranged in Hg concentration from 20 to 1,900 ng/g, and only 5 of the 17 collected samples exceeded the probable effect concentration for Hg of 1,060 ng/g, above which harmful effects are likely to be observed in sediment-dwelling organisms. Concentrations of methyl-Hg in Tiber River sediment varied from 0.12 to 0.52 ng/g, and although there is no established guideline for sediment methyl-Hg, these concentrations exceeded methyl-Hg in a regional baseline site (<0.02 ng/g). Concentrations of Hg in stream water varied from 1.2 to 320 ng/L, all of which were below the 1,000 ng/L Italian drinking water Hg guideline and the 770 ng/L U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) guideline recommended to protect against chronic effects to aquatic wildlife. Methyl-Hg concentrations in stream water varied from <0.02 to 0.53 ng/L and were generally elevated compared to the baseline site (<0.02 ng/L). All stream water samples contained concentrations of As (<1.0–6.2 μg/L) and Sb (<0.20–0.37 μg/L) below international drinking water guidelines to protect human health (10 μg/L for As and 20 μg/L for Sb) and for protection against chronic effects to aquatic wildlife (150 μg/L for As and 5.6 μg/L for Sb). Concentrations of Hg in freshwater fish muscle ranged from 0.052–0.56 μg/g (wet weight), mean of 0.17 μg/g, but only 17 % (9 of 54) exceeded the 0.30 μg/g (wet weight) USEPA fish muscle guideline recommended to protect human health. Concentrations of Hg in freshwater fish in this region generally decreased with increasing distance from the MAMD, where fish with the highest Hg concentrations were collected more proximal to the MAMD, whereas all fish collected most distal from Hg mines contained Hg below the 0.30 μg/g fish muscle guideline. Data in this study indicate some conversion of inorganic Hg to methyl-Hg and uptake of Hg in fish on the Paglia River, but less methylation of Hg and Hg uptake by freshwater fish in the larger Tiber River.
Additional publication details
Long-distance transport of Hg, Sb, and As from a mined area, conversion of Hg to methyl-Hg, and uptake of Hg by fish on the Tiber River basin, west-central Italy
Environmental Geochemistry and Health
Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center