Novel methodology for the study of mercury methylation and reduction in sediments and water using 197Hg radiotracer

Guevara, Sergio Ribeiro; Žižek, Suzana; Repinc, Urška; Catán, Soledad Pérez; Jaćimović, Radojko; Horvat, Milena
March 2007
Analytical & Bioanalytical Chemistry;Mar2007, Vol. 387 Issue 6, p2185
Academic Journal
Mercury tracers are powerful tools that can be used to study mercury transformations in environmental systems, particularly mercury methylation, demethylation and reduction in sediments and water. However, mercury transformation studies using tracers can be subject to error, especially when used to assess methylation potential. The organic mercury extracted can be as low as 0.01% of the endogenous labeled mercury, and artefacts and contamination present during methylmercury (MeHg) extraction processes can cause interference. Solvent extraction methods based on the use of either KBr/H2SO4 or HCl were evaluated in freshwater sediments using 197Hg radiotracer. Values obtained for the 197Hg tracer in the organic phase were up to 25-fold higher when HCl was used, which is due to the coextraction of 197Hg2+ into the organic phase during MeHg extraction. Evaluations of the production of MeHg gave similar results with both MeHg extraction procedures, but due to the higher Hg2+ contamination of the controls, the uncertainty in the determination was higher when HCl was used. The Hg2+ contamination of controls in the HCl extraction method showed a nonlinear correlation with the humic acid content of sediment pore water. Therefore, use of the KBr/H2SO4 method is recommended, since it is free from these interferences. 197Hg radiotracer ( T 1/2 = 2.673 d) has a production rate that is about 50 times higher than that of 203Hg ( T 1/2 = 46.595 d), the most frequently used mercury radiotracer. Hence it is possible to obtain a similar level of performance to 203Hg when it is used it in short-term experiments and produced by the irradiation of 196Hg with thermal neutrons, using mercury targets with the natural isotopic composition. However, if the 0.15% natural abundance of the 196Hg isotope is increased, the specific activity of the 197Hg tracer can be significantly improved. In the present work, 197Hg tracer was produced from mercury 51.58% enriched in the 196Hg isotope, and a 340-fold increase in specific activity with respect to natural mercury targets was obtained. When this high specific activity tracer is employed, mercury methylation and reduction experiments with minimum mercury additions are feasible. Tracer recovery in methylation experiments (associated with Me197Hg production from 197Hg2+ spike, but also with Hg2+ contamination and Me197Hg artefacts) with marine sediments was about 0.005% g−1 WS (WS: wet sediment) after 20 h incubation with mercury additions of 0.05 ng g−1 WS, which is far below natural mercury levels. In this case, the amount of Hg2+ reduced to Hg0 (expressed as the percent 197Hg0 recovered with respect to the 197Hg2+ added) varied from 0.13 to 1.6% g−1 WS. Me197Hg production from 197Hg2+ spike after 20 h of incubation of freshwater sediment ranged from 0.02 to 0.13% g−1 WS with mercury additions of 2.5 ng g−1 WS, which is also far below natural levels. 197Hg0 recoveries were low, 0.0058 ± 0.0013% g−1 WS, but showed good reproducibility in five replicates. Me197Hg production from 197Hg2+ spiked in freshwater samples ranged from 0.1 to 0.3% over a period of three days with mercury additions of 10 ng L−1. A detection limit of 0.05% for Me197Hg production from 197Hg2+ spike was obtained in seawater in a 25 h incubation experiment with mercury additions of 12 ng L−1.


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