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Your Environment. Your Health.

Publication Detail

Title: Methylmercury production in estuarine sediments: role of organic matter.

Authors: Schartup, Amina T; Mason, Robert P; Balcom, Prentiss H; Hollweg, Terill A; Chen, Celia Y

Published In Environ Sci Technol, (2013 Jan 15)

Abstract: Methylmercury (MeHg) affects wildlife and human health mainly through marine fish consumption. In marine systems, MeHg is formed from inorganic mercury (Hg(II)) species primarily in sediments, then accumulates and biomagnifies in the food web. Most of the fish consumed in the United States are from estuarine and marine systems, highlighting the importance of understanding MeHg formation in these productive regions. Sediment organic matter has been shown to limit mercury methylation in estuarine ecosystems, as a result it is often described as the primary control over MeHg production. In this paper, we explore the role of organic matter by looking at the effects of its changing sediment concentrations on the methylation rates across multiple estuaries. We measured sedimentary MeHg production at eleven estuarine sites that were selected for their contrasting biogeochemical characteristics, mercury (Hg) content, and location in the Northeastern U.S. (ME, NH, CT, NY, and NJ). Sedimentary total Hg concentrations ranged across 5 orders of magnitude, increasing in concentration from the pristine, sandy sediments of Wells (ME), to industrially contaminated areas such as Portsmouth (NH) and Hackensack (NJ). We find that methylation rates are the highest at locations with high Hg content (relative to carbon), and that organic matter does not hinder mercury methylation in estuaries.

PubMed ID: 23194318 Exiting the NIEHS site

MeSH Terms: Animals; Environmental Monitoring; Fishes/metabolism; Geologic Sediments/chemistry*; Humans; Humic Substances/analysis; Mercury/analysis*; Methylation; Methylmercury Compounds/analysis*; Water Pollutants, Chemical/analysis*

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