Lake Superior Has Lost over 90% of Its Pesticide HCH Load since 1986

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The time trend of α- and γ-hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) isomers in Lake Superior water was followed from 1986 to 2016, the longest record for any persistent organic pollutant (POP) in Great Lakes water. Dissipation of α-HCH and γ-HCHs was first order, with halving times (t1/2) of 5.7 and 8.5 y, respectively. Loss rates were not significantly different starting a decade later (1996-2016). Concentrations of β-HCH were followed from 1996-2016 and dissipated more slowly (t1/2 = 16 y). In 1986, the lake contained an estimated 98.8 tonnes of α-HCH and 13.2 tonnes of γ-HCH; by 2016, only 2.7% and 7.9% of 1986 quantities remained. Halving times of both isomers in water were longer than those reported in air, and for γ-HCH, they were longer in water than those reported in lake trout. Microbial degradation was evident by enantioselective depletion of (+)α-HCH, which increased from 1996 to 2011. Volatilization was the main removal process for both isomers, followed by degradation (hydrolytic and microbial) and outflow through the St. Mary's River. Sedimentation was minor. Major uncertainties in quantifying removal processes were in the two-film model for predicting volatilization and in microbial degradation rates. The study highlights the value of long-term monitoring of chemicals in water to interpreting removal processes and trends in biota.

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Environmental Science and Technology