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Great Lakes Mercury Connections
Great Lakes Mercury Connections

The Extent and Effects of Mercury Pollution in the Great Lakes Region

The findings from a binational scientific study indicate that efforts to control mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region have resulted in substantial and measurable improvements and that additional emissions controls will have multiple benefits for fish, wildlife, and people who consume fish from the Great Lakes region. However, mercury pollution remains a major concern in this region and the scope and intensity of the problem is greater than had been previously recognized. Biodiversity Research Institute and its collaborating research partners are actively addressing the need to continue mercury studies in areas most at risk and to convey this information to policy makers and regulators who are charged with the stewardship of our natural resources.

Scientific Report

Scientific Report

Great Lakes Mercury Connections distills key results from 35 new peer-reviewed papers accepted in special issues of two scientific journals:


The report represents the work of more than 170 scientists, researchers, and resource managers who used more than 300,000 mercury measurements to document the impact and trends of mercury pollution on the Great Lakes region.

Great Lakes Mercury Connections is a collaboration of Biodiversity Research Institute, the Great Lakes Commission based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

In 2008, the Great Lakes Commission, funded by the U.S. EPA, sponsored a scientific synthesis of information on mercury in air, water, fish, and wildlife through its Great Lakes Air Deposition (GLAD) program. BRI’s executive director, David C. Evers, Ph.D., was the principal investigator on the project. James G. Wiener, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and Charles T. Driscoll, Ph.D., of Syracuse University, were co-principal investigators on this project.

 

Mercury in Game Fish

Mercury in Game Fish Consumed by Humans - The mean mercury concentration in 30 x 30 minute grid cells (approximately 35 x 25 miles) for six fresh species: lake trout, largemouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and walleye. A total of 25,177 fish samples were included. Note: This information is presented for risk screening purposes and is not intended to represent the existing fish consumption recommendations throughout the region.
Mercury in Game Fish Consumed by Humans - The mean mercury concentration in 30 x 30 minute grid cells (approximately 35 x 25 miles) for six fresh species: lake trout, largemouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and walleye. A total of 25,177 fish samples were included. Note: This information is presented for risk screening purposes and is not intended to represent the existing fish consumption recommendations throughout the region.
 

Mercury pollution is a local, regional, and global environmental problem that adversely affects human and wildlife health worldwide. As the world’s largest freshwater system, the Great Lakes are a unique and extraordinary natural resource providing drinking water, food, recreation, employment, and transportation to more than 35 million people.

“Mercury is one of the most persistent and dangerous pollutants that threatens our health and environment today.”
- U.S. Senator Susan Collins

June 2011 - Senator Collins Introduces Mercury Monitoring Legislation
Legislation follows up on studies by Biodiversity Research Institute.
Read full press release here.

The widespread loading of mercury into the Great Lakes environment is responsible for mercury-related fish consumption advisories in the eight U.S. states and the province of Ontario that border the lakes. Visit the U.S. EPA website and Ontario province’s Guide for more information.

For nearly 200 years, mercury has been released into the air and waterways of the Great Lakes region from human activities such as fossil fuel combustion, waste incineration, metal smelting, chlorine production, mining, and discharges of mercury in wastewater.

 

Mercury in Selected Fish Species

Mercury in Selected Fish Species in the Great Lakes Region - Each histogram displays the mean fillet mercury concentration on a wet weight (ww) basis of fish collected from 2000 to 2008 from inland water bodies and the Great Lakes. Samples were collected by a variety of state and other fish monitoring programs (39,110 fish samples from inland water bodies and 6,572 from the Great Lakes). Species shown are commonly consumed by humans in the region.
Mercury in Selected Fish Species in the Great Lakes Region - Each histogram displays the mean fillet mercury concentration on a wet weight (ww) basis of fish collected from 2000 to 2008 from inland water bodies and the Great Lakes. Samples were collected by a variety of state and other fish monitoring programs (39,110 fish samples from inland water bodies and 6,572 from the Great Lakes). Species shown are commonly consumed by humans in the region.
 

Mercury Emission Sources

Mercury Emission Sources in the Great Lakes Region from Human Activities - Left: Mercury Emission by source category in the Great Lakes states. Right: Locations of inventories emission sources (2005) in the Great Lakes basin and an adjacent 200km buffer area.
Mercury Emission Sources in the Great Lakes Region from Human Activities - Left: Mercury Emission by source category in the Great Lakes states. Right: Locations of inventories emission sources (2005) in the Great Lakes basin and an adjacent 200km buffer area.
Mercury Emission Sources in the Great Lakes Region from Human Activities - Left: Mercury Emission by source category in the Great Lakes states. Right: Locations of inventories emission sources (2005) in the Great Lakes basin and an adjacent 200km buffer area.
 

Long-Term Mercury Trends

Long-Term Mercury Trends in Fish and Wildlife - Trends in fillet (walleye and largemouth bass) and herring gull egg mercury concentration (averaged by year across multiple sites). Much of this decrease has been attributed to reductions in regional mercury emissions, although other factors may contribute.
Long-Term Mercury Trends in Fish and Wildlife - Trends in fillet (walleye and largemouth bass) and herring gull egg mercury concentration (averaged by year across multiple sites). Much of this decrease has been attributed to reductions in regional mercury emissions, although other factors may contribute.
Long-Term Mercury Trends in Fish and Wildlife - Trends in fillet (walleye and largemouth bass) and herring gull egg mercury concentration (averaged by year across multiple sites). Much of this decrease has been attributed to reductions in regional mercury emissions, although other factors may contribute.
 

ICMGP

International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP) - The ICMGP is considered the preeminent international forum for discussion of science and policy issues related to mercury in the environment. The 10th ICMGP, convened in Halifax, Nova Scotia in July 2011, presented an ideal venue for publicizing results from this project to a global audience. A special platform session, “Mercury in the Laurentian Great Lakes Region—a Binational Synthesis” (principal organizer, Dr. James Wiener), was designed to highlight results of the Great Lakes Mercury Connections project and to encourage further synthesis of study results. The Halifax conference provided an excellent array of opportunities for sharing the results of our work with the global scientific and policy communities involved with environmental mercury pollution.
 

With funding from the U.S. EPA, the Great Lakes Commission sponsored a binational scientific synthesis effort through its Great Lakes Air Deposition program. The purpose of the synthesis project was to foster binational collaboration among mercury researchers and resource managers from government, academic, and nonprofit institutions to compile a wide variety of mercury data for the Great Lakes region, and to address key questions concerning mercury contamination, the bioaccumulation of methylmercury in food webs, and the resulting exposures and risks.

The synthesis effort began in November of 2008 and has involved more than 170 scientists and managers working to compile and evaluate more than 300,000 mercury measurements and to conduct new modeling and analyses.

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