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Environ Toxicol Chem. 2007 Apr;26(4):624-33.

Influence of dissolved organic matter on the complexation of mercury under sulfidic conditions.

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University of Maryland, Center of Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, 1 Williams Street, Solomons, Maryland 20688, USA.


The complexation of Hg under sulfidic conditions influences its bioavailability for microbial methylation. Neutral dissolved Hg-sulfide complexes are readily available to Hg-methylating bacteria in culture, and thermodynamic models predict that inorganic Hg-sulfide complexes dominate dissolved Hg speciation under natural sulfidic conditions. However, these models have not been validated in the field. To examine the complexation of Hg in natural sulfidic waters, octanol/water partitioning methods were modified for use under environmentally relevant conditions, and a centrifuge ultrafiltration technique was developed. These techniques demonstrated much lower concentrations of dissolved Hg-sulfide complexes than predicted. Furthermore, the study revealed an interaction between Hg, dissolved organic matter (DOM), and sulfide that is not captured by current thermodynamic models. Whereas Hg forms strong complexes with DOM under oxic conditions, these complexes had not been expected to form in the presence of sulfide because of the stronger affinity of Hg for sulfide relative to its affinity for DOM. The observed interaction between Hg and DOM in the presence of sulfide likely involves the formation of a DOM-Hg-sulfide complex or results from the hydrophobic partitioning of neutral Hg-sulfide complexes into the higher-molecular-weight DOM. An understanding of the mechanism of this interaction and determination of complexation coefficients for the Hg-sulfide-DOM complex are needed to adequately assess how our new finding affects Hg bioavailability, sorption, and flux.

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