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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Legacy Mercury Re-emission and Subsurface Migration at Contaminated Sites Constrained by Hg Isotopes and Chemical Speciation

Zhu, Wei; Li, Zhonggen; Li, Ping; Sommar, Jonas; Fu, Xuewu; Feng, Xinbin; Yu, Ben; Zhang, Wei; Reis, Ana T.; Pereira, Eduarda


The re-emission and subsurface migration of legacy mercury (Hg) are not well understood due to limited knowledge of the driving processes. To investigate these processes at a decommissioned chlor-alkali plant, we used mercury stable isotopes and chemical speciation analysis. The isotopic composition of volatilized Hg(0) was lighter compared to the bulk total Hg (THg) pool in salt-sludge and adjacent surface soil with mean epsilon Hg-202(Hg(0)-THg) values of -3.29 and -2.35 parts per thousand, respectively. Hg(0) exhibited dichotomous directions ((EHgHg(0)-THg)-Hg-199 = 0.17 and -0.16 parts per thousand) of mass-independent fractionation (MIF) depending on the substrate from which it was emitted. We suggest that the positive MIF enrichment during Hg(0) re-emission from salt-sludge was overall controlled by the photoreduction of Hg(II) primarily ligated by Cl- and/or the evaporation of liquid Hg(0). In contrast, O-bonded Hg(II) species were more important in the adjacent surface soils. The migration of Hg from salt-sludge to subsurface soil associated with selective Hg(II) partitioning and speciation transformation resulted in deep soils depleted in heavy isotopes (delta Hg-202 = -2.5 parts per thousand) and slightly enriched in odd isotopes (Delta Hg-199 = 0.1 parts per thousand). When tracing sources using Hg isotopes, it is important to exercise caution, particularly when dealing with mobilized Hg, as this fraction represents only a small portion of the sources.


Hg contaminated sites; re-emission; subsurfacemigration; Hg isotope fractionation; Hg speciation; MIE; NVE

Published in

Environmental Science & Technology
2024, Volume: 58, number: 12, pages: 5336–5346

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    Environmental Sciences

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