Although mercury (Hg) emissions peaked in the United States over the last 20 to 40 years and are now declining, they remain well above natural background levels in soils and sediments. Only a small fraction of the Hg deposited from the atmosphere to the terrestrial landscape runs off in streamflow. However, some of this Hg is methylated in the environment and can potentially bioaccumulate to the top of food webs, posing a hazard to people who eat fish, especially children and pregnant women.
What factors determine the amount of Hg that runs off in streams? During the 2000 snowmelt at Sleepers River in Vermont, strong correlations were found between dissolved and particulate mercury and the respective dissolved and particulate organic carbon fractions, even when data were pooled from 10 streams of diverse watershed size and land cover. Episodic export of particulate Hg during the highest flows appears to be the dominant mechanism of Hg movement.