The Importance of Measuring Mercury in Wood
Abstract:Forests are important receptors of Hg deposition, and biological Hg hotspots occur mainly in forested regions, but few efforts have been made to determine the Hg content of trees. Mercury concentrations in stem tissue are lower than the foliage and bark, so low that they have often been below detection limits, especially in hardwood species. However, because wood is the largest component of forest biomass, it can be a larger Hg pool than the foliage, and thus quantifying concentrations in wood is important to Hg budgets in forests.
The objective of our study was to determine the methods necessary to detect Hg in bole wood of four tree species, including two hardwoods and two conifers. We also evaluated the effect of air-drying and oven-drying samples on Hg recovery, compared to freeze-drying samples prior to analysis, which is the standard procedure. Many archived wood samples that were air-dried or oven-dried could be appropriate for Hg analysis if these methods could be validated; few are freeze-dried. We analyzed samples for total Hg using thermal decomposition, catalytic conversion, amalgamation, and atomic absorption spectrophotometry (Method 7473, USEPA 1998).
The result of the method detection limit study was 1.27 ng g-1, based on apple leaf standards (NIST 1515, 44 ± 4 ng/g). Concentrations in the hardwood species were 1.48 ± 0.23 ng g-1 for sugar maple and 1.75 ± 0.14 ng g-1 for American beech. Concentrations were higher in red spruce and balsam fir. Samples that were analyzed fresh, freeze-dried, or oven-dried at 65 ˚C were in close agreement, after correcting for moisture content. However, Hg concentrations were 34 to 45% too high in the air-dry samples, presumably reflecting absorption from the atmosphere, and they were 44 to 66% too low in the samples oven-dried at 103 ˚C, presumably due to volatilization. We recommend that samples be freeze-dried or oven-dried at 65 ˚C for analysis of Hg in wood; archived samples that have been oven-dried at higher temperatures or stored exposed to the air may not be suitable for Hg analysis.