Accumulation, transfer, and environmental risk of soil mercury in a rapidly industrializing region of the Yangtze River Delta, China

Biao Huang, Mei Wang, Lianxiang Yan, Weixia Sun, Yongcun Zhao, Xuezheng Shi, David C. Weindorf

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Purpose: Mercury (Hg) accumulation and transfer in soil ecosystems has been altered on local, regional, and even global scales, and their environmental risk has increasingly been a concern to the public and the scientific community. Materials and methods: A county level region in Zhangjiagang County, the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) region of China and a factory with Hg-contaminated wastewater discharging within the region were selected to study the accumulation, bioavailability, and transfer of Hg from different sources in soils and crops under rapid industrialization, urbanization, and intensive agricultural activities. Regional soil samples close to and away from factories and local soil and crop samples around a typical factory were collected in the YRD region of China. Soil and crop Hg and basic soil properties were examined. Results and discussion: Significant soil Hg accumulation was found in soils away from factories regardless of Cambosols (Entisols) and Anthrosols (Inceptisols), while the mobile HCl-extractable Hg (HCl-Hg) were greater in soils closer to factories due to a decrease and increase in soil pH and organic matter. A high level of soil total Hg (T-Hg) was found around the factory, and soil and crop Hg accumulation in the vicinity of the factory was localized with an exponential decrease as distance away from the wastewater discharge outlet increased. Although Hg accumulated in these soils, the T-Hg levels at only a few sampling sites in acidic Anthrosols area were found to exceed the second most stringent critical value of Chinese Environmental Quality Standards for Soils. Conclusions: Considering the cessation of Hg-containing agrochemicals and limitation of effects of industrial activities on Hg accumulation, more attention should be paid to the changes in soil properties and crop rotations than controlling the pathways of Hg entering soils because the current environmental risk is mobilization of accumulated soil Hg.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-618
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Bioavailability
  • Environmental risk
  • Rapidly industrializing region
  • Soil mercury accumulation


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