Cold regions are warming much faster than the global average, resulting in more frequent and intense freeze-thaw cycles (FTCs) in soils. In hydrocarbon-contaminated soils, FTCs modify the biogeochemical and physical processes controlling petroleum hydrocarbon (PHC) biodegradation and the associated generation of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Thus, understanding the effects of FTCs on the biodegradation of PHCs is critical for environmental risk assessment and the design of remediation strategies for contaminated soils in cold regions. In this study, we developed a diffusion-reaction model that accounts for the effects of FTCs on toluene biodegradation, including methanogenic biodegradation. The model is verified against data generated in a 215 day-long batch experiment with soil collected from a PHC contaminated site in Ontario, Canada. The fully saturated soil incubations with six different treatments were exposed to successive 4-week FTCs, with temperatures oscillating between −10 °C and +15 °C, under anoxic conditions to stimulate methanogenic biodegradation. We measured the headspace concentrations and 13C isotope compositions of CH4 and CO2 and analyzed the porewater for pH, acetate, dissolved organic and inorganic carbon, and toluene. The numerical model represents solute diffusion, volatilization, sorption, as well as a reaction network of 13 biogeochemical processes. The model successfully simulates the soil porewater and headspace concentration time series data by representing the temperature dependencies of microbial reaction and gas diffusion rates during FTCs. According to the model results, the observed increases in the headspace concentrations of CH4 and CO2 by 87% and 136%, respectively, following toluene addition are explained by toluene fermentation and subsequent methanogenesis reactions. The experiment and the numerical simulation show that methanogenic degradation is the primary toluene attenuation mechanism under the electron acceptor-limited conditions experienced by the soil samples, representing 74% of the attenuation, with sorption contributing to 11%, and evaporation contributing to 15%. Also, the model-predicted contribution of acetate-based methanogenesis to total produced CH4 agrees with that derived from the 13C isotope data. The freezing-induced soil matrix organic carbon release is considered as an important process causing DOC increase following each freezing period according to the calculations of carbon balance and SUVA index. The simulation results of a no FTC scenario indicate that, in the absence of FTCs, CO2 and CH4 generation would decrease by 29% and 26%, respectively, and that toluene would be biodegraded 23% faster than in the FTC scenario. Because our modeling approach represents the dominant processes controlling PHC biodegradation and the associated CH4 and CO2 fluxes, it can be used to analyze the sensitivity of these processes to FTC frequency and duration driven by temperature fluctuations.
Concentrations of total mercury were measured in blood and hair samples collected as part of a human biomonitoring project conducted in First Nations communities of the Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories, Canada. Hair (n = 443) and blood (n = 276) samples were obtained from six communities in the Dehcho region and three communities in the Sahtú region of the Mackenzie Valley. The aim of this paper was to calculate hair to blood mercury ratios (for matched samples) and determine if: 1) ratios differed significantly between the two regions; 2) ratios differed from the 250:1 ratio proposed by the WHO; and, 3) point estimates of hair to blood mercury ratios could be used to estimate blood mercury concentrations. In addition, this paper aims to determine if there were seasonal patterns in hair mercury concentrations in these regions and if so, if patterns were related to among-season variability in fish consumption. The majority of mercury levels in hair and blood were below relevant health-based guidance values. The geometric mean hair (most recent segment) to blood mercury ratio (stratified by region) was 619:1 for the Dehcho region and 1220:1 for the Sahtú region. Mean log-transformed hair to blood mercury ratios were statistically significantly different between the two regions. Hair to blood ratios calculated in this study were far higher (2-5 times higher) than those typically reported in the literature and there was a large amount of inter-individual variation in calculated ratios (range: 114:1 to 4290:1). Using the 250:1 ratio derived by the World Health Organisation to estimate blood mercury concentrations from hair mercury concentrations would substantially over-estimate blood mercury concentrations in the studied regions. However, geometric mean site-specific hair to blood mercury ratios can provide estimates of measures of central tendency for blood mercury concentrations from hair mercury concentrations at a population level. Mercury concentrations were determined in segments of long hair samples to examine exposure of participants to mercury over the past year. Hair segments were assigned to six time periods and the highest hair mercury concentrations were generally observed in hair segments that aligned with September/October and November/December, whereas the lowest hair mercury concentrations were aligned with March/April and May/June. Mean log-transformed hair mercury concentrations were statistically significantly different between time periods. Between time periods (e.g., September/October vs. March/April), the geometric mean mercury concentration in hair differed by up to 0.22 μg/g, and the upper margins of mercury exposure (e.g., 95th percentile of hair mercury) varied by up to 0.86 μg/g. Results from self-reported fish consumption frequency questionnaires (subset of participants; n = 170) showed total fish intake peaked in late summer, decreased during the winter, and then increased during the spring. Visual assessment of results indicated that mean hair mercury concentrations followed this same seasonal pattern. Results from mixed effects models, however, indicated that variability in hair mercury concentrations among time periods was not best explained by total fish consumption frequency. Instead, seasonal trends in hair mercury concentrations may be more related to the consumption of specific fish species (rather than total wild-harvested fish in general). Future work should examine whether seasonal changes in the consumption of specific fish species are associated with seasonal changes in hair mercury concentrations.