Particle-specific properties, including size and chemical speciation, affect the reactivity of mercury (Hg) in natural systems (e.g., dissolution or methylation). Here, terrestrial, river, and marine sediments were size-fractionated and characterized to correlate particle-specific properties of Hg-bearing solids with their bioavailability potential and measured biomethylation. Marine sediments contained ∼20-50% of the total Hg in the <0.5 μm size fraction, compared to only 0.5 and 3.0% in this size fraction for terrestrial and river sediments, respectively. X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) analysis indicated that metacinnabar (β-HgS) was the main mercury species in a marine sediment, whereas organic Hg-thiol (Hg(SR)2) was the main mercury species in a terrestrial sediment. Single-particle inductively coupled plasma time-of-flight mass spectrometry analysis of the marine sediment suggests that half of the Hg in the <0.5 μm size fraction existed as individual nanoparticles, which were β-HgS based on XAS analyses. Glutathione-extractable mercury was higher for samples containing Hg(SR)2species than β-HgS species and correlated well with the amount of Hg biomethylation. This particle-scale understanding of how Hg speciation and particle size affect mercury bioavailability potential helps explain the heterogeneity in Hg methylation in natural sediments.
- mercury association
- mercury bioavailability proxy
- mercury methylation
- mercury methylation indicator
- mercury nanoparticles
- sediment contamination