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Mercury in waters, soils, and sediments of the New Jersey Coastal Plain: A comparison of regional distribution and mobility with the mercury contamination at the William J. Hughes Technical Center, Atlantic County, New Jersey

October 18, 2012

Mercury in soils, surface water, and groundwater at the William J. Hughes Technical Center , Atlantic County, New Jersey, has been found at levels that exceed established background concentrations in Coastal Plain waters, and, in some cases, New Jersey State standards for mercury in various media. As of 2012, it is not known whether this mercury is part of regional mercury contamination or whether it is related to former military activities. Regionally, groundwater supplying about 700 domestic wells in the New Jersey Coastal Plain is contaminated with mercury that appears to be derived from anthropogenic inputs, such as agricultural pesticide use and atmospheric deposition. High levels of mercury occasionally are found in Coastal Plain soils, but disturbance during residential development on former agricultural land is thought to have mobilized any mercury applied during farming, a hypothesis borne out by experiments leaching mercury from soils. In the unsewered residential areas with mercury-contaminated groundwater, septic-system effluent is believed to create reducing conditions in which mercury sorbed to subsoils is mobilized to groundwater. In comparing the levels of mercury found in soils, sediments, streamwater, and groundwater at the William J. Hughes Technical Center site with those found regionally, mercury concentrations in groundwater in the region are, in some cases, substantially higher than those found in groundwater at the William J. Hughes Technical Center site. Nevertheless, concentrations of mercury in streamwater at the site are, in some instances, higher than most found regionally. The mercury contents in soils and sediment at the William J. Hughes Technical Center site are substantially higher than those found to date (2012) in the region, indicating that a source other than regional sources may be present at the site.