Historical anthropogenic mercury in two lakes of Central Chile: comparison between an urban and rural lake
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Mercury concentrations in the environment tend to decrease in recent years due to environmental restrictions. Lakes store mercury in their sediments, making them potential secondary contamination sources. In South America, the occurrence of mercury in lake systems has been associated mainly with volcanic emissions and only few records anthropogenic contamination in the pre-Hispanic period. The objective of this research was to study historical anthropogenic mercury concentration in two lakes in Central Chile (La Señoraza and Pillo), in order to establish background mercury levels and their variations from preindustrial to modern periods. Different background levels and mercury concentrations were found in each lake, with significantly higher concentrations in Lake La Señoraza during the last 150 years. Mining-related activities during the nineteenth century could have a negligible influence on mercury concentrations. Later on, the use of coal railroads and subsequent employment of mercury in the cellulose industry were associated with three- and fourfold increases in mercury concentration over the nineteenth century background levels, which decrease once these activities ceased. However, in the case of Lake Pillo, an important increase in mercury concentration can be observed between 1990 and the early twenty-first century, which could be related to a higher watershed/lake area ratio, extensive agriculture, and volcanic emission, being the latter that could have contributed with mercury to both systems. Nevertheless, sedimentological characteristics in Lake Pillo can be favorable to retain mercury in this aquatic system up to the present day.
KeywordsLake sediments Hg emission Gold mining Chlor-alkali plant Mercury Volcanic emission
We thank Javiera Cárdenas for the sediment samples of Lake Pillo, Natalia Sepúlveda for her help in the recompilation of geologic information, and Pablo Pedreros for the time spent in the manuscript revision.
This work was partially supported by CRHIAM-FONDAP 15130015. The authors want to thank the support of the Generalitat de Catalunya to MERS (2014 SGR-1356).
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