INTERIM RESULTS FROM A STUDY OF THE IMPACTS OF TIN(II) BASED MERCURY TREATMENT IN A SMALL STREAM ECOSYSTEM: TIMS BRANCH, SAVANNAH RIVER SITE

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Mercury (Hg) has been identified as a 'persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic' pollutant with widespread impacts throughout North America and the world (EPA. 1997a, 1997b, 1998a, 1998b, 2000). Although most of the mercury in the environment is inorganic Hg, a small proportion of total Hg is transformed through the actions of aquatic microbes into methylmercury (MeHg). In contrast to virtually all other metals, MeHg biomagnifies or becomes increasingly concentrated as it is transferred through aquatic food chains so that the consumption of mercury contaminated fish is the primary route of this toxin to humans. For this reason, the ambient water quality ... continued below

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Looney, B.; Bryan, L. & Mathews, T. March 30, 2012.

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Mercury (Hg) has been identified as a 'persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic' pollutant with widespread impacts throughout North America and the world (EPA. 1997a, 1997b, 1998a, 1998b, 2000). Although most of the mercury in the environment is inorganic Hg, a small proportion of total Hg is transformed through the actions of aquatic microbes into methylmercury (MeHg). In contrast to virtually all other metals, MeHg biomagnifies or becomes increasingly concentrated as it is transferred through aquatic food chains so that the consumption of mercury contaminated fish is the primary route of this toxin to humans. For this reason, the ambient water quality criterion (AWQC) for mercury is based on a fish tissue endpoint rather than an aqueous Hg concentration, as the tissue concentration (e.g., < 0.3 {mu}g/g fillet) is considered to be a more consistent indicator of exposure and risk (EPA, 2001). Effective mercury remediation at point-source contaminated sites requires an understanding of the nature and magnitude of mercury inputs, and also knowledge of how these inputs must be controlled in order to achieve the desired reduction of mercury contamination in biota necessary for compliance with AWQC targets. One of the challenges to remediation is that mercury body burdens in fish are more closely linked to aqueous MeHg than to inorganic Hg concentrations (Sveinsdottir and Mason 2005), but MeHg production is not easily predicted or controlled. At point-source contaminated sites, mercury methylation is not only affected by the absolute mercury load, but also by the form of mercury loaded. In addition, once MeHg is formed, the hydrology, trophic structure, and water chemistry of a given system affect how it is transformed and transferred through the food chain to fish. Decreasing inorganic Hg concentrations and loading may often therefore be a more achievable remediation goal, but has led to mixed results in terms of responses in fish bioaccumulation. A number of source control measures have resulted in rapid responses in lake or reservoir fisheries (Joslin 1994, Turner and Southworth 1999; Orihel et al., 2007), but examples of similar responses in Hg-contaminated stream ecosystems are less common. Recent work suggests that stream systems may actually be more susceptible to mercury bioaccumulation than lakes, highlighting the need to better understand the ecological drivers of mercury bioaccumulation in stream-dwelling fish (Chasar et al. 2009, Ward et al. 2010). In the present study we examine the response of fish to remedial actions in Tims Branch, a point-source contaminated stream on the Department of Energy's (DOE) Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina. This second order stream received inorganic mercury inputs at its headwaters from the 1950s-2000s which contaminated the water, sediments, and biota downstream. In 2007, an innovative mercury removal system using tin (II) chloride (stannous chloride, SnCl{sub 2}) was implemented at a pre-existing air stripper. Tin(II) reduces dissolved Hg (II) to Hg (0), which is removed by the air stripper. During this process, tin(II) is oxidized to tin (IV) which is expected to precipitate as colloidal tin(IV) oxides and hydroxides, particulate materials with relatively low toxicity (Hallas and Cooney, 1981, EPA 2002, ATSDR, 2005). The objectives of the present research are to provide an initial assessment of the net impacts of the tin(II) based mercury treatment on key biota and to document the distribution and fate of inorganic tin in this small stream ecosystem after the first several years of operating a full scale system. To support these objectives, we collected fish, sediment, water, invertebrates, and biofilm samples from Tims Branch to quantify the general behavior and accumulation patterns for mercury and tin in the ecosystem and to determine if the treatment process has resulted in: (1) a measurable beneficial impact on (i.e., decrease of) mercury concentration in upper trophic level fish and other biota; this is a key environmental endpoint since reducing mercury concentration in fish is a primary regulatory driver for controlling mercury in streams; and (2) the potential for negative impacts associated with inorganic tin, including, biological transformation and uptake, and/or undesirable accumulation/focusing of tin to in key ecosystem compartments.

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  • Report No.: SRNL-STI-2012-00202
  • Grant Number: DE-AC09-08SR22470
  • DOI: 10.2172/1038050 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 1038050
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc833787

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  • March 30, 2012

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  • May 19, 2016, 3:16 p.m.

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  • Dec. 12, 2016, 6:40 p.m.

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Looney, B.; Bryan, L. & Mathews, T. INTERIM RESULTS FROM A STUDY OF THE IMPACTS OF TIN(II) BASED MERCURY TREATMENT IN A SMALL STREAM ECOSYSTEM: TIMS BRANCH, SAVANNAH RIVER SITE, report, March 30, 2012; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc833787/: accessed December 13, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.