Challenges and opportunities for managing aquatic mercury pollution in altered landscapes.
The environmental cycling of mercury (Hg) can be affected by natural and anthropogenic perturbations. Of particular concern is how these disruptions increase mobilization of Hg from sites and alter the formation of monomethylmercury (MeHg), a bioaccumulative form of Hg for humans and wildlife. The scientific community has made significant advances in recent years in understanding the processes contributing to the risk of MeHg in the environment. The objective of this paper is to synthesize the scientific understanding of how Hg cycling in the aquatic environment is influenced by landscape perturbations at the local scale, perturbations that include watershed loadings, deforestation, reservoir and wetland creation, rice production, urbanization, mining and industrial point source pollution, and remediation. We focus on the major challenges associated with each type of alteration, as well as management opportunities that could lessen both MeHg levels in biota and exposure to humans. For example, our understanding of approximate response times to changes in Hg inputs from various sources or landscape alterations could lead to policies that prioritize the avoidance of certain activities in the most vulnerable systems and sequestration of Hg in deep soil and sediment pools. The remediation of Hg pollution from historical mining and other industries is shifting towards in situ technologies that could be less disruptive and less costly than conventional approaches. Contemporary artisanal gold mining has well-documented impacts with respect to Hg; however, significant social and political challenges remain in implementing effective policies to minimize Hg use. Much remains to be learned as we strive towards the meaningful application of our understanding for stakeholders, including communities living near Hg-polluted sites, environmental policy makers, and scientists and engineers tasked with developing watershed management solutions. Site-specific assessments of MeHg exposure risk will require new methods to predict the impacts of anthropogenic perturbations and an understanding of the complexity of Hg cycling at the local scale.
Hsu-Kim, H; Eckley, CS; Achá, D; Feng, X; Gilmour, CC; Jonsson, S; Mitchell, CPJ
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