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Research article2018Peer reviewed

Methylmercury production in soil in the water-level-fluctuating zone of the Three Gorges Reservoir, China: The key role of low-molecular-weight organic acids

Yin, Deliang; Wang, Yongmin; Jiang, Tao; Qin, Caiqing; Xiang, Yuping; Chen, Qiuyu; Xue, Jinping; Wang, Dingyong


As important parts of dissolved organic matter, low-molecular-weight organic acids (LMWOAs) typically play important roles in desorbing Hg(II) from the soil solid-phase, which may directly or indirectly impact methylmercury (MeHg) production. However, the mechanism of these processes remains unclear. To better understand the effects of LMWOAs on Hg methylation in the soil, a field study was conducted to investigate the distribution of LMWOAs and their relationship with soil MeHg in a seasonally inundated area in the Three Gorges Reservoir (TGR), China. Meanwhile, laboratory simulation experiments were performed to determine the potential mechanism of LMWOAs in Hg methylation. The field investigation detected considerable amounts of LMWOAs in soil, among which tartaric acid and oxalic acid were dominant components. Among which, tartaric acid and oxalic acid were dominant components. Also, a seasonally and spatially heterogeneous distribution of LMWOAs in soil was observed. Notably, a significant positive relationship was found between MeHg concentrations and LMWOA pools in soil (r = 0.969, p < .01), implying that LMWOAs could promote soil MeHg production. The simulation experiments confirmed that the MeHg levels in soil were largely elevated with the addition of LMWOAs, which occurred mainly in oxygen-deficient environment and was mediated by biotic factors. The soluble Hg-LMWOA complexes, which were formed by the enhanced desorption of Hg(II) from solid-phase, were mostly responsible for the elevated MeHg production in soil. Moreover, those LMWOAs with more carboxylic groups were believed to enhance the net production of MeHg. The generated MeHg in sediment could diffuse into the overlying water, which thus poses a potential threat to the aquatic food web. Therefore, the enhanced Hg methylation caused by LMWOAs should be given more attention, especially in a seasonally inundated ecosystem, where the MeHg exposure is usually related to fishery activities. (C) 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Low-molecular-weight organic acids; Methylmercury; Water-level-fluctuating zone; Three Gorges Reservoir

Published in

Environmental Pollution
2018, Volume: 235, pages: 186-196

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG6 Clean water and sanitation

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences

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