RPI Researchers Launch Study of Mercury in Lake George

Anthony F. Hall
The Lake George Mirror

The discovery of elevated levels of mercury in the spiders and song birds of Dome Island has led the Nature Conservancy of Eastern New York and the Dome Island Committee, the organizations responsible for the island’s preservation, to test for mercury contamination throughout the Lake George watershed. 

No one expected to find mercury pollution at these levels on Lake George,” said Henry Caldwell, the chairman of the Dome Island Committee. “Working with the Nature Conservancy of Eastern New York, which is the island’s owner, we decided to take the next step and look beyond Dome Island.”

At the Dome Island Committee’s annual meeting, held August 15 on Crown Island, members voted to authorize a study of the possible impacts of mercury on the food web within the Lake George ecosystem.

The study, to be led by Dr. Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer and Dr. Mark Swinton of RPI and the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, will measure mercury concentrations in fish throughout the lake and in Macroinvertebrates in the Indian Brook watershed. 

The results will help scientists learn how pervasive mercury and its toxic form, methylmercury, is in Lake George, said Henry Caldwell.

Only a few short-term mercury projects have ever been conducted in the Lake George watershed,” said Mark Swinton. “The fish study will be the largest ever conducted here.” 

Swinton said the study of concentrations of mercury in lake trout, salmon, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass will help scientists, policy makers and the public determine what, if any, threats to the health of people who consume excessive amounts of Lake George fish might be present. Based on a study Darrin Fresh Water Institute researchers recently conducted, Lake George’s yellow perch do not become toxic to the degree they do in other Adirondack lakes, Swinton said.

There’s appears to be a disconnect between the terrestrial species, such as spiders, and the aquatic species, where we’ve seen little evidence of bioaccumulation, said Swinton. 

To conduct the study of fish, the researchers will seek the assistance of fishing charter captains and sport fishermen. They will be asked to collect and send samples to RPI’s campus in Troy, where the tissue will be analyzed. 

The study of microinvertebrates will require collecting samples from Indian Brook from its mouth to its headwaters, said Swinton. 
“With our mercury assessment program, we hope to identify mercury hotspots around the lake,” said Swinton. 

Swinton, a research associate at Darrin Fresh Water Institute who arrived in 2003 as a graduate student, will discuss his work on Monday, August 28 at DFWI in a talk titled, “Mercury in the Lake George Food Web: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown.”

The talk, the last in a series of weekly programs sponsored by the Darrin Fresh Water Institute and the Bolton Historical Society, starts at 7:30 pm. 

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