Lead and mercury have long histories of anthropogenic use and release to the environment extending into preindustrial times. Yet, the timing, magnitude, and persistence of preindustrial emissions remain enigmatic, especially for mercury. Here, we quantify tropical lead and mercury deposition over the past ∼3000 years using a well-dated sediment core from a small crater lake (Lake Antoine, Grenada). Preindustrial increases in lead and mercury concentrations can be explained by varying inputs of watershed mineral and organic matter, which in turn reflect climate-driven changes in the lake level. We find no evidence that preindustrial lead and mercury use raised deposition rates in this remote ecosystem, and our results underscore the need to carefully evaluate common normalization approaches for changing lithogenic inputs and sedimentation rates. Industrial-era lead and mercury accumulation rates in Lake Antoine have been accelerated by land use and land cover change within the crater rim, yet global industrial pollution remains evident. After correcting for watershed inputs, we find that recent atmospheric lead and mercury deposition rates averaged 2925 and 24 μg/m2/y, respectively, which are in close agreement with monitoring data. Our results challenge recent assessments suggesting preindustrial mercury use raised atmospheric deposition rates globally, highlighting the unique nature of 20th Century industrial pollution.
- heavy metals