Samples of yellow eel from various locations in the Dutch Rhine area have been analyzed for trend monitoring of mercury since 1977. In the western Rhine delta mercury levels in eels have hardly changed since the seventies, whereas in the eastern part of the Dutch Rhine area a considerable decrease of mercury concentrations in eel has occurred. Because of continuous sedimentation of contaminated suspended matter transported from upstream regions, accumulation rates and concentrations of mercury in eel in the western Rhine delta remained at a relatively high level.
Analyses of methyl mercury in biota have been performed to elucidate the role of methyl mercury in the mercury contamination of the Dutch Rhine ecosystem. Low percentages of methyl mercury were observed in zooplankton (3 to 35%). In benthic organisms (mussels) percentages of methyl mercury ranged from 30 to 57%, while in fish species and liver of aquatic top predator birds almost all the mercury was present in the form of methyl mercury (> 80%).
During the period 1970-1990 mercury concentrations of suspended matter in the eastern Rhine delta have drastically decreased. These concentrations seemed to be highly correlated with mercury concentrations of eel (R = 0.84). The consequences of this relation are discussed.