Concentration, distribution, and translocation of mercury and methylmercury in mine-waste, sediment, soil, water, and fish collected near the Abbadia San Salvatore mercury mine, Monte Amiata district, Italy

The distribution and translocation of mercury (Hg) was studied in the Paglia River ecosystem, located downstream from the inactive Abbadia San Salvatore mine (ASSM). The ASSM is part of the Monte Amiata Hg district, Southern Tuscany, Italy, which was one of the world’s largest Hg districts. Concentrations of Hg and methyl-Hg were determined in mine-waste calcine (retorted ore), sediment, water, soil, and freshwater fish collected from the ASSM and the downstream Paglia River. Concentrations of Hg in calcine samples ranged from 25 to 1500 íg/g, all of which exceeded the industrial soil contamination level for Hg of 5 íg/g used in Italy. Stream and lake sediment samples collected downstream from the ASSM ranged in Hg concentrations from 0.26 to 15 íg/g, of which more than 50% exceeded the probable effect concentration for Hg of 1.06 íg/g, the concentration above which harmful effects are likely to be observed in sediment-dwelling organisms. Stream and lake sediment methyl-Hg concentrations showed a significant correlation with TOC indicating considerable methylation and potential bioavailability of Hg. Stream water contained Hg as high as 1400 ng/L, but only one water sample exceeded the 1000 ng/L drinking water Hg standard used in Italy. Concentrations of Hg were elevated in freshwater fish muscle samples and ranged from 0.16 to 1.2 íg/g (wet weight), averaged 0.84 íg/g, and 96% of these exceeded the 0.3 íg/g (methyl-Hg, wet wt.) USEPA fish muscle standard recommended to protect human health. Analysis of fish muscle for methyl-Hg confirmed that > 90% of the Hg in these fish is methyl-Hg. Such highly elevated Hg concentrations in fish indicated active methylation, significant bioavailability, and uptake of Hg by fish in the Paglia River ecosystem. Methyl-Hg is highly toxic and the high Hg concentrations in these fish represent a potential pathway of Hg to the human food chain.

Authors: Rimondi, Valentina; Gray, John E.; Costagliola, Pilario; Vaselli, Orlando; Lattanzi, Pierfranco ;Full Source: Science of the Total Environment 2012, 414, 318-327 (English) ;