Determining the distribution and fate of mercury in sediments of the Cataraqui River at Kingston, Ontario
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The Cataraqui River, which drains 930 square km of watershed before emptying into the inner harbour of Kingston, Ontario (pop: 113,000), has a long history of anthropogenic use. More than 40 industries have existed within the inner harbour over the last century, and while many of these industries are no longer present, the properties that they operated on remain to the present day as potential sources of persistent contamination. This study examined total mercury (THg) concentrations in depth profiles of 21 sediment cores within the inner harbour. THg in pore waters was measured in some selected cores along with methylmercury (MeHg), and total organic carbon measured as % Organic Matter (OM). Results show that the spatial distribution of THg in the surface sediment is not homogenous; concentrations in surface sediment along the southwestern shoreline, adjacent to the former industrial properties, are significantly greater than the rest of the inner harbour, and above the severe effect limit (2000 μg/kg) guideline for sediment. MeHg was detected in some sediment cores, and was found to have a significant, positive correlation with [THg] in surface sediment. THg in pore water was below detection limits in most cores, indicating possible strong associations with sediments, however OM only showed significant, positive correlations with THg in one core sampled. To determine the sources of Hg to sediments, soils, runoff and storm sewer discharges near high concentration sediments were measured for THg. Hg was not detected in storm sewers, but was detected in terrestrial soil near the Kingston Rowing Club at a concentration of more than 4000 μg/kg. Significant [THg] was detected in runoff draining shoreline soils, indicating that erosion from terrestrial sources may be an ongoing source of Hg to sediment. Since [THg] was correlated to the [MeHg] in surface sediment, reducing the amount of Hg entering the river from terrestrial sources may reduce the amount of bioavailable Hg in sediments of the inner harbour.