Mercury Stable Isotopic Composition of Monomethylmercury in Estuarine Sediments and Pure Cultures of Mercury Methylating Bacteria
Friday, 19 December 2014: 9:30 AM
Tracking monomethylmercury (MeHg) from its source in soils and sediments through various environmental compartments and transformations is critical to understanding its accumulation in aquatic and terrestrial food webs. Advances in the field of mercury (Hg) stable isotopes have allowed for the tracking of discrete Hg sources and the examination of photochemical and bacterial transformations. Despite analytical advances, measuring the Hg stable isotopic signature of MeHg in environmental samples or laboratory experiments remains challenging due to difficulties in the quantitative separation of MeHg from complex matrices with high concentrations of inorganic Hg. To address these challenges, we have developed a MeHg isolation method for sediments and bacterial cultures which involves separation by gas chromatography. The MeHg eluting from the GC is passed through a pyrolysis column and purged onto a gold amalgam trap which is then desorbed into a final oxidizing solution. A MeHg reference standard carried through our separation process retained its isotopic composition within 0.02 ‰ for δ202Hg, and for native estuarine sediments, MeHg recoveries were 80% to 100%. For sediment samples from the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers (New Jersey, USA), δ202Hg values for MeHg varied from -1.2 to +0.58 ‰ (relative to SRM 3133) and for individual samples were significantly different from that of total Hg (-0.38 ± 0.06 ‰). No mass independent fractionation was observed in MeHg or total Hg from these sediments. Pure cultures of Geobacter sulfurreducens, grown under fermentative conditions showed preferential enrichment of lighter isotopes (lower δ202Hg) during Hg methylation. The Hg stable isotope signatures of MeHg in sediments and laboratory methylation experiments will be discussed in the context of the formation and degradation of MeHg in the environment and the bioaccumulation of MeHg in estuarine food webs.