Elevated mercury concentrations in biota despite reduced sediment concentrations in a contaminated coastal area, Harboøre Tange, Denmark

Poul Bjerregaard*, Torben Grau Schmidt, Maria Pedersen Mose

*Corresponding author for this work

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Metals sequestered in coastal sediments are normally considered to be stable, but this investigation shows - somewhat surprisingly - that mercury concentrations in a previously contaminated area, Harboøre Tange, Denmark, have decreased since the 1980s. Mercury concentrations were determined in sediment and benthic biota and present values were compared to values in the 1980s and values from areas without known; history of mercury contamination. Concentrations in both the upper 20 cm of the sediments and; biota are considerably lower now compared to latest monitoring (1980s). Sediment. concentrations at most locations have decreased from the 100-300 ng Hg g -1 dry weight (dw) level to levels below the Background Concentration (BC) of 50 ng Hg g -1 dw defined by Oslo-Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic; some stations are at the 2-10 ng Hg g -1 dw level characteristic of Danish coastal sediments with no known history of mercury contamination. Concentrations of mercury in the benthic biota along Harboøre Tange have also decreased since the 1980s but despite the lowered mercury concentrations in the sediments, concentrations in most samples of benthic invertebrate fauna still exceed those in uncontaminated coastal areas and also the Environmental Quality Standard (EQS) of 20 ng Hg g -1 wet weight (≈100 ng Hg g -1 dry weight) defined by the European Union's Water Framework Directive. Concentration ranges in selected organisms are: (Harboøre Tange l980s/Harboøre Tange now/uncontaminated areas - given in ng Hg g -1 dw): Periwinkles Littorina littorea 9000/150-450/55-77, blue mussels Mytilus edulis up to 9000/300-500/40-170, cockles Cerastoderma edule up to 8000/400-1200/200, brown shrimp Crangon crangon 700-2200/150-450/47, eelgrass Zostera marina up to 330/25-70/12. The present results - together with a literature review - show that a simple and straight forward relationship between the concentrations of mercury in sediment and benthic organisms does not necessarily exist.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113985
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Benthic
  • Biota
  • Mercury
  • Sediment


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