Aroostook Band of Micmacs Monitor Atmospheric Mercury

July 15, 2019
A member of the Atmospheric Mercury monitoring team displays monitoring equipment

For years, the state of Maine has recommended strict fish consumption limits due to high mercury levels. Without this lean source of protein, many tribal members of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs’ have turned to higher fat alternatives with lower nutritional value, and many suffer from diabetes and obesity. The tribe hopes to return to healthy and traditional fishing practices.

For years, the tribe’s Environmental Department has belonged to a large network of air quality monitoring sites coordinated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to map air pollutant levels across the country. The tribe has had a long interest in atmospheric mercury monitoring, but the EPA could not financially support the startup costs, so in 2012 the tribe launched a one year ERE project to establish an atmospheric mercury monitoring site.

Project staff purchased and installed a Tekran mercury monitor, a machine that analyzes atmospheric samples on a continuous basis and produces highly accurate measures of mercury concentrations in the atmosphere. Project staff received training in maintenance and operation of the instrument and in data quality control from an EPA partner, the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP). After installation of the system, project staff set up a system to routinely send data to the NADP’s international atmospheric mercury monitoring network to help contribute to the data set used by the EPA, other regulatory agencies, and other researchers. In addition to their work installing the atmospheric mercury monitoring system, project staff also shared the impact of their project with the local community through broadcasts on local television and radio stations.

This ERE grant helped the Aroostook Band of Micmacs establish the only mercury atmospheric testing site in Maine. With this site in place, the EPA has a more complete national picture of atmospheric mercury transport and cycling. This knowledge helps the EPA and other policy makers make informed decisions about regulations on mercury producing technologies and practices. Furthermore, the data staff collected had an impact at the local level. Monitoring results revealed a spike in atmospheric mercury in the winter of 2014, during a weather pattern called an inversion. Since inversions trap locally-produced pollutants at the surface, this indicated the possible presence of local sources of mercury. Empowered with this data, staff have initiated discussions with the EPA and mercury researchers to investigate potential local sources of mercury. Project staff dream that one day the tribal waters will be safe, the fish will be healthy, and they will be able to continue the traditional fishing practices so important to the community. This project brought them one step closer to that dream.

Key Results:

  • 1 atmospheric monitoring site established
  • 1 system for sharing and sending data developed
  • 2 partnerships strengthened