Use of mercury (Hg) for gold-mining in French Guiana (up until 2006) as well as the presence of naturally high background levels in soils, has led to locally high concentrations in soils and sediments. The present study maps the levels of Hg concentrations in river sediments from five main rivers of French Guiana (Approuague River, Comté River, Mana River, Maroni River and Oyapock River) and their tributaries, covering more than 5 450 km of river with 1 211 sampling points. The maximum geological background Hg concentration, estimated from 241 non-gold-mined streams across French Guiana was 150 ng g(-1). Significant differences were measured between the five main rivers as well as between all gold-mining and pristine areas, giving representative data of the Hg increase due to past gold-mining activities. These results give a unique large scale vision of Hg contamination in river sediments of French Guiana and provide fundamental data on Hg distribution in pristine and gold-mined areas.
Keywords: French Guiana; Gold-mining; Mercury; Sediments.