Methylmercury Research Begins – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Methylmercury Research Begins

Hobart and William Smith Colleges recently purchased a Brooks-Rand MERX-M methylmercury analyzer, an instrument that measures the concentrations of methylmercury in organisms collected from lakes and streams. The analyzer will be instrumental in furthering research for the Finger Lakes Institute’s Mercury Project, a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority funded collaborative study of mercury dynamics in lakes and tributaries of the Finger Lakes.

“The new system will help us predict which fish species and which Finger Lakes may have higher mercury concentrations resulting in elevated health risks associated with eating fish from specific lakes,” says FLI Director Lisa Cleckner. “We are excited to contribute to the knowledgebase of mercury levels in New York State and the Finger Lakes since very little mercury data currently exists for lower trophic level organisms in our region.”

Methylmercury is the organic form of mercury that bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in food webs, and has serious health consequences such as neurological impairment in humans and reproductive damage in wildlife. The new analyzer will allow researchers to measure the exact amount of methylmercury in samples taken from Seneca Lake, as opposed to the total mercury levels – which includes the amount of inorganic mercury and organic mercury that the Institute currently measures with a total mercury analyzer.

Being able to measure methylmercury directly, the new analyzer will shorten processing and analysis time considerably. Researchers will use the analyzer to determine methylmercury concentrations in seston, zooplankton, and invertebrates, such as those collected from lakes and streams last summer through the Finger Lakes Mercury Project.

“Biomagnification of mercury in our lake and stream foodwebs is important to understand and measure, considering how many people catch, take, and eat fish in the region,” explains Research Scientist and HWS Director of Introductory Biology Laboratories Susan Flanders Cushman ’98.

Led by Cleckner, research for the Mercury Project began in May 2015. In addition to Cushman, investigators on the project include, HWS Professor of Environmental Studies John Halfman; Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) Conservation Professor and Muller Field Station Director Bruce Gilman; post-doctoral research scientist at the FLI Roxanne Razavi; and FLCC Professor John Foust.

Above, Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) post-doctoral researcher Roxanne Razavi, FLI Director Lisa Cleckner, FLI research student Alex Gatch ’16 and Technical Support Specialist from Brooks Rand Instruments Lacie Brownell unpack the new methylmercury analyzer.