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


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.

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Funds for these studies were provided by the USGS and NJDEP. The authors gratefully acknowledge Mark Brigham (USGS) and Barbara Hirst and Kimberly Cenno (NJDEP) for administrative assistance. Special thanks go to USGS colleagues Donald Rice, William Ellis, and Denis Sun for GIS and illustrative work and to Mark Brigham and Paul Schuster for helpful comments on early drafts of this paper. The authors are grateful for the insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers that led to a much improved manuscript. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only, and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

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Correspondence to Julia L. Barringer.

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Table S1

Map labels, sampling site names, and downstream site identification numbers (Station number, USGS database), Great Egg Harbor River (GEHR) watershed, New Jersey Coastal Plain (DOC 38 kb)

Table S2

Analytical methods, accuracy or precision, reporting limits for selected field parameters and constituents in unfiltered (U) and filtered (F) water samples, particulate (P) samples, and bed-sediment samples, and laboratories performing analyses (DOC 54 kb)

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Barringer, J.L., Riskin, M.L., Szabo, Z. et al. Mercury and Methylmercury Dynamics in a Coastal Plain Watershed, New Jersey, USA. Water Air Soil Pollut 212, 251–273 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-010-0340-1

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  • Mercury
  • Methylmercury
  • Wetlands
  • Streamwater
  • Groundwater
  • Land use