Use of Artificial Stream Mesocosms to Investigate Mercury Uptake in the South River, Virginia, USA

  • Robert N. BrentEmail author
  • David A. Berberich


Mercury is a globally distributed pollutant that biomagnifies in aquatic food webs. In the United States, 4,769 water bodies fail to meet criteria for safe fish consumption due to mercury bioaccumulation. Although the majority of these water bodies are affected primarily by atmospheric deposition of mercury, legacy contamination from mining or industrial activities also contribute to fish consumption advisories for mercury. The largest mercury impairment in Virginia, a 130-mile stretch of the South and South Fork Shenandoah rivers, is posted with a fish-consumption advisory for mercury contamination that originated from mercuric sulfate discharges from a textile facility in Waynesboro, Virginia, between 1929 and 1950. Although discharges of mercury to the river ceased >60 years ago, mercury levels in fish remain greater than levels safe for human consumption. This is due to the continued cycling of historic mercury in the river and its eventual uptake and biomagnification through aquatic food webs. This study investigated the relative importance of waterborne versus sediment-borne mercury in controlling biological uptake of mercury into the aquatic food web. Twelve artificial stream channels were constructed along the contaminated South River in Crimora, Virginia, and the uncontaminated North River in nearby Port Republic, Virginia, to provide four experimental treatments: a control with no Hg exposure, a Hg in sediment exposure, a Hg in water exposure, and a Hg in sediment and water exposure. After 6 weeks of colonization and growth, algae in each treatment was collected and measured for mercury accumulation. Mercury accumulation in water-only exposures was four times greater than in sediment-only exposures and was equivalent to accumulation in treatments with combined water and sediment exposure. This indicates that mercury in the water column is much more important in controlling biological uptake than mercury in near-field sediments. As a result, future remediation efforts need to focus on strategies that either remove mercury from the water column or decrease flux to the water column.


Methylmercury Total Mercury Total Mercury Concentration South Fork Mercury Uptake 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was funded by a Grant from DuPont. The authors thank members of the South River Science Team for input and review. Special thanks also goes to the Augusta Forestry Center and individuals who assisted in the project: Scott Gregory, Spencer Davis, Kurt Drummond, Brandon Foltz, and Josh McLaughlin.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Integrated Science and TechnologyJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA

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