Mercury trends in fish from rivers and lakes in the United States, 1969–2005

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Abstract

A national dataset on concentrations of mercury in fish, compiled mainly from state and federal monitoring programs, was used to evaluate trends in mercury (Hg) in fish from US rivers and lakes. Trends were analyzed on data aggregated by site and by state, using samples of the same fish species and tissue type, and using fish of similar lengths. Site-based trends were evaluated from 1969 to 2005, but focused on a subset of the data from 1969 to 1987. Data aggregated by state were used to evaluate trends in fish Hg concentrations from 1988 to 2005. In addition, the most recent Hg fish data (1996–2005) were compared to wet Hg deposition data from the Mercury Deposition Network (MDN) over the same period. Downward trends in Hg concentrations in fish from data collected during 1969–1987 exceeded upward trends by a ratio of 6 to 1. Declining Hg accumulation rates in sediment and peat cores reported by many studies during the 1970s and 1980s correspond with the period when the most downward trends in fish Hg concentrations occurred. Downward Hg trends in both sediment cores and fish were also consistent with the implementation of stricter regulatory controls of direct releases of Hg to the atmosphere and surface waters during the same period. The southeastern USA had more upward Hg trends in fish than other regions for both site and state aggregated data. Upward Hg trends in fish from the southeastern USA were associated with increases in wet deposition in the region and may be attributed to a greater influence of global atmospheric Hg emissions in the southeastern USA. No significant trends were found in 62% of the fish species from six states from 1996 to 2005. A lack of Hg trends in fish in the more recent data was consistent with the lack of trends in wet Hg deposition at MDN sites and with relatively constant global emissions during the same time period. Although few significant trends were observed in the more recent Hg concentrations in fish, it is anticipated that Hg concentrations in fish will respond to changes in atmospheric Hg deposition, however, the magnitude and timing of the response is uncertain.

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Correspondence to Ann T. Chalmers.

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Chalmers, A.T., Argue, D.M., Gay, D.A. et al. Mercury trends in fish from rivers and lakes in the United States, 1969–2005. Environ Monit Assess 175, 175–191 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-010-1504-6

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Keywords

  • Mercury
  • Fish
  • Trends
  • Wet deposition
  • Atmospheric emissions