Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and cycles among the atmosphere, water, and sediments. Human activities such as coal burning power plants and waste incineration increase the amount of mercury cycling in the environment. Since the industrial revolution, anthropogenic mercury emissions have increased, resulting in corresponding increases in mercury levels in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
Mercury that is released into the atmosphere can be transported long distances and deposited in aquatic ecosystems, where it can potentially be methylated to methylmercury. Methylmercury, the most toxic form, bioaccumulates in organisms and is transferred through the food chain to other animals and humans primarily through fish consumption.
This investigation is providing the science to understand the real versus perceived risks of mercury contamination on humans and other organisms with the intent to minimize exposure and adverse effects. The investigation is working toward achieving this goal by:
Recent findings from a consortium of university, State, and USGS scientists indicate that declining atmospheric concentrations of mercury (Hg) can be explained by the phaseout of mercury in many commercial products and by reduced emissions from utilities over the past two decades. ...
The US Geological Survey (USGS) and collaborators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a new tool for attributing (fingerprinting) mercury sources to the Great Lakes. This new fingerprinting tool helps resource managers understand which mitigation strategies will be most effective for reducing mercury loading and exposure to fish and wildlife. ...
A new USGS report, Mercury in the Nation's Streams—Levels, Trends, and Implications, presents a comprehensive assessment of mercury contamination in streams across the United States. It highlights the importance of environmental processes, monitoring, and control strategies for understanding and reducing stream mercury levels. ...
Access to all publications from this investigation.
A collection of photos illustrating this investigation's activities.
The USGS mercury research team maintains its own home page that contains additional information about research on mercury in aquatic ecosystems. The research team runs the USGS Mercury Research Laboratory.