Mercury levels in sediment, fish and macroinvertebrates of the Boroo River, northern Mongolia, under the legacy of gold mining

Ecotoxicology. 2022 Mar;31(2):312-323. doi: 10.1007/s10646-021-02502-6. Epub 2022 Jan 6.


Gold mining is currently one of the main anthropogenic sources of mercury in the environment. In this study, the total mercury content was measured in bottom sediments, benthic macroinvertebrates (mayfly larvae), and fish (Siberian dace) along the Boroo River in northern Mongolia. There was a gold recovery plant in the middle reaches of the river until the mid-twentieth century; an accident there in the 1950s caused a mercury spill. We found an increased content of mercury in measured ecosystem components near the plant compared to the upper reaches of the river. The mercury content in sediments varied from trace amounts in the upper Boroo to 2200 ng/g dry weight (dw) in the vicinity of the plant ruins. The mercury content in mayfly larvae ranged from 50 to 2940 ng/g dw and had a spatial pattern as sediments, with the highest concentrations near the plant. The mercury content in sediments was lower at the mouth of the Boroo River than near the plant, reflecting the lower boundary of the mercury spill. Maximum values of mercury content in fish muscle were found at the river's mouth and were several times higher than in other rivers of northern Mongolia. Median mercury content in muscles of dace from the lower Boroo in 2016 has doubled since studies in 2010-2012, which may be the result of current mercury releases from gold mining.

Keywords: Artisanal small gold mines; Bottom sediments; Mayflies; SIBERIAN dace.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Ephemeroptera*
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Gold
  • Mercury* / analysis
  • Mining
  • Mongolia
  • Rivers
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Gold
  • Mercury