Water, sediment, and fish were sampled in the summer and fall of 1998 at 106 sites from 20 U.S. watershed basins to examine relations of mercury (Hg) and methylmercury (MeHg) in aquatic ecosystems. Bioaccumulation of Hg in fish from these basins was evaluated in relation to species, Hg and MeHg in surficial sediment and water, and watershed characteristics. Bioaccumulation was strongly (positively) correlated with MeHg in water (r = 0.63, p < 0.001) but only moderately with the MeHg in sediment (r = 0.33, p < 0.001) or total Hg in water (r = 0.28, p < 0.01). Of the other significantly measured parameters, pH, DOC, sulfate, sediment LOI, and the percent wetlands of each basin were also significantly correlated with Hg bioaccumulation in fish. The best model for predicting Hg bioaccumulation included Me Hg in water, PH of the water, % wetlands in the basin, and the AVS content of the sediment. These four variables accounted for 45% of the variability of the fish fillet Hg concentration normalized (divided) by total length; however, the majority was described by MeHg in water. A MeHg water concentration 0.12 ng/L was on average, associated with a fish fillet Hg concentration of 0.3 mg/kg wet weight for an age-3 fish when all species were considered. For age-3 largemouth bass, a MeHg water concentration of 0.058 ng/L was associated with the 0.3 mg/kg fillet concentration. Based on rankings for Hg in sediment, water, and fish, sampling sites from the following five study basins had the greatest Hg contamination: Nevada Basin and Range, South Florida Basin, Sacramento River Basin (California), Santee River Basin and Caostal Drainages (South Carolina), and the Long Island and New Jersey Coastal DRainags. A sampling and analysis strategy based on this pilot study is planned for all USGS/NAWQA study units over the next decade.
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Federal Government Series
A National Pilot Study of Mercury Contamination of Aquatic Ecosystems Along Multiple Gradients: Bioaccumulation in Fish