Determination of mercury evasion in a contaminated headwater stream

Evasion from first- and second-order streams in a watershed may be a significant factor in the atmospheric recycling of volatile pollutants such as mercury; however, methods developed for the determination of Hg evasion rates from larger water bodies are not expected to provide satisfactory results in highly turbulent and morphologically complex first- and second-order streams. A new method for determining the Hg evasion rates from these streams, involving laboratory gas-indexing experiments and field tracer tests, was developed in this study to estimate the evasion rate of Hg from Gossan Creek, a first-order stream in the Upsalquitch River watershed in northern New Brunswick, Canada. Gossan Creek receives Hg-contaminated groundwater discharge from a gold mine tailings pile. Laboratory gas-indexing experiments provided the ratio of gas-exchange coefficients for zero-valent Hg to propane (tracer gas) of 0.81 ± 0.16, suggesting that the evasion mechanism in highly turbulent systems can be described by the surface renewal model with an additional component of enhanced gas evasion probably related to the formation of bubbles. Deliberate field tracer tests with propane and chloride tracers were found to be a reliable and practical method for the determination of gas-exchange coefficients for small streams. Estimation of Hg evasion from the first 1 km of Gossan Creek indicates that about 6.4 kg of Hg peryear is entering the atmosphere, which is a significant fraction of the regional sources of Hg to the atmosphere.

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