UConn professor receives $200,000 grant to study local waterways’ mercury levels

Dr. Robert Mason (Courtesy/Mason.Mercury.UConn.edu)

Dr. Robert Mason, a chemistry and marine sciences at the University of Connecticut, and his team were recently awarded a $200,000 grant to study methylmercury levels in local waterways and to what extent humans may play a role in recent level increases.

Methylmercury is a highly toxic organic compound that almost all people have traces of in their bodies, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s website.

These small amounts can increase when fish or shellfish that have high methylmercury levels are eaten, according to the website. The fish consume microorganisms high in methylmercury from local waterways that contribute to increased levels present in the fish.

According to Mason, these higher levels can become increasingly dangerous to humans. In response, Mason began a research study to decrease the levels.

“Every place has been impacted by human activity,” Mason said. “For example, looking at eutrophication, climate change, all those kinds of things that relate to how methylmercury has been released into the atmosphere.”

Mason received the grant from the Hudson River Foundation (HRF), which aims to help gear science-based improvements to the Hudson River area. Dr. Zofia Baumann, an assistant research professor, aids Mason in his work, according to Mason’s webpage.

“The purpose of the Hudson River Foundation is to make science integral to decision-making with regard to the Hudson River and its watershed and to support competent stewardship of this extraordinary resource,” the HRF website said.

Mason said the research enabled by the grant will go toward satisfying the HRF mission statement through answering a multitude of questions he and his team have posed, all pertaining to these mercury levels.

“Is cleaning up a certain place worthwhile if it’s just going to get contaminated again?,” Mason said. “Where is the mercury from this contaminated site (coming from)? We’re trying to understand and answer these questions so that the manager of the Hudson River Foundation can devise a strategy (on how to improve things).”

Mason said he received his Ph.D. from UConn in marine sciences in 1991. He added that since then, he has been around “research related to mercury for [his] whole academic career.”


Luke Hajdasz is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at luke.hajdasz@uconn.edu.