Concentrations of Hg remain elevated in physical and biological media of the South River (Virginia, USA), despite the cessation of the industrial use of Hg in its watershed nearly six decades ago, and physical characteristics that would not seem to favor Hg(II)-methylation. A 3-a study of inorganic Hg (IHg) and methylmercury (MeHg) was conducted in physical media (soil, sediment, surface water, porewater and soil/sediment extracts) to identify non-point sources, transport mechanisms, and potential controls on Hg(II)-methylation. Data collected from surface water and sediment indicate that the majority of the non-point sources of IHg to the South River are within the first 14. km downstream from the historic point source. Partitioning data indicate that particle bound IHg is introduced in this reach, releasing dissolved and colloidal bound IHg, which is transported downstream. Extraction experiments revealed that floodplain soils released a higher fraction of their IHg content in aqueous extractions than fine-grained sediment (FGS). Based on ultrafiltration [<5000 nominal molecular weight cutoff (NMWC)] the majority of soil IHg released was colloidal in nature, providing evidence for the continued evolution of IHg for Hg(II)-methylation from soil. Strong seasonal patterns in MeHg concentrations were observed in surface water and sediment. The highest concentrations of MeHg in surface water were observed at moderate temperatures, suggesting that other factors limit net Hg(II)-methylation. Seasonal changes in sediment organic content and the fraction of 1. N KOH-extractable THg were also observed and may be important factors in controlling net Hg(II)-methylation rates. Sulfate concentrations in surface water are low and the evidence suggests that Fe reduction may be an important Hg(II)-methylation process. The highest sediment MeHg concentrations were observed in habitats with large amounts of FGS, which are more prevalent in the upper half of the study area due to the lower hydrologic gradient and agricultural impacts. Past and present land use practices and other geomorphologic controls contribute to the erosion of banks and accumulation of fine-grained sediment in this section of the river, acting as sources of IHg. ?? 2010 Elsevier Ltd.
Additional publication details
Distribution, behavior, and transport of inorganic and methylmercury in a high gradient stream