Water, Air, & Soil Pollution

, Volume 212, Issue 1, pp 251-273

First online:

Mercury and Methylmercury Dynamics in a Coastal Plain Watershed, New Jersey, USA

  • Julia L. BarringerAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey Email author 
  • , Melissa L. RiskinAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey
  • , Zoltan SzaboAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey
  • , Pamela A. ReillyAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey
  • , Robert RosmanAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey
  • , Jennifer L. BoninAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey
  • , Jeffrey M. FischerAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey
  • , Heather A. HeckathornAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey

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The upper Great Egg Harbor River watershed in New Jersey’s Coastal Plain is urbanized but extensive freshwater wetlands are present downstream. In 2006–2007, studies to assess levels of total mercury (THg) found concentrations in unfiltered streamwater to range as high as 187 ng/L in urbanized areas. THg concentrations were <20 ng/L in streamwater in forested/wetlands areas where both THg and dissolved organic carbon concentrations tended to increase while pH and concentrations of dissolved oxygen and nitrate decreased with flushing of soils after rain. Most of the river’s flow comes from groundwater seepage; unfiltered groundwater samples contained up to 177 ng/L of THg in urban areas where there is a history of well water with THg that exceeds the drinking water standard (2,000 ng/L). THg concentrations were lower (<25 ng/L) in unfiltered groundwater from downstream wetland areas. In addition to higher THg concentrations (mostly particulate), concentrations of chloride were higher in streamwater and groundwater from urban areas than in those from downstream wetland areas. Methylmercury (MeHg) concentrations in unfiltered streamwater ranged from 0.17 ng/L at a forest/wetlands site to 2.94 ng/L at an urban site. The percentage of THg present as MeHg increased as the percentage of forest + wetlands increased, but also was high in some urban areas. MeHg was detected only in groundwater <1 m below the water/sediment interface. Atmospheric deposition is presumed to be the main source of Hg to the wetlands and also may be a source to groundwater, where wastewater inputs in urban areas are hypothesized to mobilize Hg deposited to soils.


Mercury Methylmercury Wetlands Streamwater Groundwater Land use