Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 108, Issue 1–2, pp 149–187 | Cite as

Mercuty in Precipitation and Its Relation to Bioaccumulation in Fish: A Literature Review

  • S. G. Downs
  • C. L. MacLeod
  • J. N. Lester
Article

Abstract

Increases in industrial mercury (Hg) emissions in recent years have led many researchers to believe that Hg from the atmosphere constitutes a main source of Hg to aquatic biota in the absence of point source discharges. Established background levels for fish (0.2–1.0 mg kg-1) now exceed the pre industrial level of 0.15 mg kg-1, suggesting an anthropogenic origin. This review of recent literature illustrates how levels of mercury (Hg) species in the atmosphere are effectively transported into the aquatic arena, where chemical parameters combine to determine bioaccumulation rates in fish. Limited studies on methyl mercury (MeHg) in precipitation shown that concentrations average from 5% of total-Hg (T-Hg), to 1% in industrial regions. Observations of increased Hg is snow and precipitation from the Arctic Circle, related to poleward atmospheric circulation patterns, also demonstrate a spring maximum accompanying ozone depletion. Increases in oxidants and soil derived Hg in the atmosphere during the summer best explain summer Hg maximums observed in precipitation, while increased temperatures raise fish metabolism increasing Hg uptake through respiration and ingestion rate. The major route of entry for MeHg to fish appears to be biomagnification, after input from precipitation, runoff and inlake methylation. Regions buffered against acid precipitation maintain low fish-Hg levels by reduced MeHg production and maintaining gill function. When considering the bioaccumulation of Hg in fish this study shows that there are many variables to consider, not all of which originate from inside the aquatic arena. Both catchment and atmospheric processes combine with aquatic variables to dictate the overall levels of MeHg observed in fish tissue. There now appears to be sufficient knowledge to develop an axiom for the identification of aquatic systems likely to be susceptible to bioaccumulation from atmospheric derived Hg.

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. G. Downs
    • 1
  • C. L. MacLeod
    • 1
  • J. N. Lester
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental Processes and Water Technology GroupImperial College Centre for Environmental Technology, Imperial College of Science, Technology and MedicineLondonUnited Kingdom

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