State Seeks Local Volunteer for Mercury Monitoring Program

Thursday, February 27 2014

Unalaska's mercury monitoring center. / Courtesy of ADEC

For five years, a group of scientists from all across the country has been quietly monitoring Unalaska to find out how much mercury travels here from Asia across the Pacific Ocean.

But now that program has stalled for lack of a local volunteer.

Anna Breuninger is an air quality specialist with the state of Alaska, and part of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program. Breuninger says their goal is to protect seafood from mercury contamination.

"We want to get a handle on it before it gets to the point where our fish are not good for subsistence living and for sale and things like that," Breuninger says. "We're a long distance from that. But we would like to know where the mercury is coming into Alaska from."

So they’ve set up sampling sites in three Alaskan port towns -- Nome, Kodiak, and Unalaska. Breuninger says the mercury monitoring station in Unalaska is easy to miss, tucked behind the old chlorine building in the Valley Neighborhood off East Broadway.

"There are two instruments," Breuninger says. "One is a rain gauge, which is basically a big bucket."

A scale inside the bucket measures how much rain, snow, or sleet has falled every fifteen minutes, and then records the data to a flash drive. There's also a special bottle at the site, which can collect clean samples of any rain or snow that might fall without cross-contaminating them.

Breuninger is based in Anchorage. She relies on a local volunteer to do some simple tasks. For instance, she mails a new collection bottle to Unalaska every week. And then:

"Every Tuesday, we need an operator to go out and change the bottle," she says.

They also need to download the rain gauge data and email it to the national mercury lab in Illinois. Breuninger says Unalaska's Fish and Game office used to do those tasks for her. But they became short-staffed, and had to stop in January 2013.

Since then, Breuninger says she's struggled to find a replacement. She's hoping to locate an organization in Unalaska that can take care of weekly monitoring tasks, or at least a volunteer and a back-up for that person. A small stipend is available to the next local site monitor.

For more information, contact Anna Breuninger at the Department of Environmental Conservation at (907) 269-7573 or

Jeff Smith on Thursday, February 27 2014:

So this is an ADEC project and we have an ADEC employee here living on our island. Here's an idea, have the local ADEC person do it. Wow, I should become a consultant.

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