In natural freshwater and sediments, mercuric mercury (Hg(II)) is largely associated with particulate minerals and organics, but it remains unclear under what conditions particulates may become a sink or a source for Hg(II) and whether the particulate-bound Hg(II) is bioavailable for microbial uptake and methylation. In this study, we investigated Hg(II) sorption-desorption characteristics on three organo-coated hematite particulates and a Hg-contaminated natural sediment and evaluated the potential of particulate-bound Hg(II) for microbial methylation. Mercury rapidly sorbed onto particulates, especially the cysteine-coated hematite and sediment, with little desorption observed (0.1-4%). However, the presence of Hg-binding ligands, such as low-molecular-weight thiols and humic acids, resulted in up to 60% of Hg(II) desorption from the Hg-laden hematite particulates but <6% from the sediment. Importantly, the particulate-bound Hg(II) was bioavailable for uptake and methylation by a sulfate-reducing bacterium Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132 under anaerobic incubations, and the methylation rate was 4-10 times higher than the desorption rate of Hg(II). These observations suggest direct contacts and interactions between bacterial cells and the particulate-bound Hg(II), resulting in rapid exchange or uptake of Hg(II) by the bacteria. The results highlight the importance of Hg(II) partitioning at particulate-water interfaces and the role of particulates as a significant source of Hg(II) for methylation in the environment.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry