Wes Research Team Finds High Mercury Levels in CT River

If you see Johan Varekamp today, give him a high-five and/or fist bump of your choice: the Wesleyan earth science professor and geochemist just led a research team that discovered an estimated more than 500 pounds of mercury in Wethersfield Cove on the Connecticut River. And here you thought earth science professors just sat around classifying rocks all day. (That’s just all night.)

Also included in the research team were Wesleyan grad students Kristen Amore, Luis Rodriguez, and Julia Rowny.

Professor Varekamp presents his findings (working title: “Wethersfield Cove: A 300 Year Urban Pollution Record”) this week at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting on Minneapolis. According to Courant coverage, Varekamp compares his research to CSI investigation:

Varekamp, a tall, bearded, genial man, likens his studies of sediments in Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River to crime scene investigation. It was his sleuthing 10 years ago that traced mercury pollution in the Housatonic River to historic Danbury hat factories. In Wethersfield Cove, the Wesleyan professor believes high mercury levels are also linked to past industry – in this case an experimental electrical generating station that used mercury vapor turbines to produce power.

Plus, he got to take his grad students boating, sort of:

In July, Varekamp and his graduate students boarded a small research boat and headed into the middle of the cove. Pounding a steel coring device into the muddy bottom, they took two samples, each about a meter long, which were brought back to the lab to dry for future testing in the department’s mercury analyzer. When those tests were done, it was found that mercury concentrations increased steadily with depth. The highest levels recorded were 3,000 parts per billion at approximately 17 inches down.

“This was a lot higher than background levels,” Varekamp said. “I knew we didn’t have hat-making on the Connecticut River, so there must have been another discrete source.”

‘grats all around to Professor Varekamp and his research team; shame on you, Wethersfield Cove; full article at the Courant.


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