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J Environ Qual. 2011 Sep-Oct;40(5):1586-92. doi: 10.2134/jeq2011.0072.

Nitrate controls methyl mercury production in a streambed bioreactor.

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Dep. of Earth Environmental Sceinces, Univ. of Waterloo, ON, Canada.


Organic carbon bioreactors provide low-cost, passive treatment of a variety of environmental contaminants but can have undesirable side effects in some cases. This study examines the production of methyl mercury (MeHg) in a streambed bioreactor consisting of 40 m³ of wood chips and designed to treat nitrate (NO₃) in an agricultural drainage ditch in southern Ontario (Avon site). The reactor provides 30 to 100% removal of NO₃-N concentrations of 0.6 to 4.4 mg L(-1), but sulfate (SO₄(2-)) reducing conditions develop when NO₃ removal is complete. Sulfate reducing conditions are known to stimulation the production of MeHg in natural wetlands. Over one seasonal cycle, effluent MeHg ranged from 0.01 to 0.76 ng L(-1) and total Hg ranged from 1.3 to 3.4 ng L(-1). During all sampling events when reducing conditions were only sufficient to promote NO₃(-) reduction (or denitrification) ( = 5, late fall 2009, winter 2010), MeHg concentrations decreased in the reactor and it was a net sink for MeHg (mean flux of -5.1 μg m(-2) yr(-1)). During all sampling events when SO₄(2-) reducing conditions were present ( = 6, early fall 2009, spring 2010), MeHg concentrations increased in the reactor and it was a strong source of MeHg to the stream (mean flux of 15.2 μg m(-2) yr(-1)). Total Hg was consistently removed in the reactor (10 of 11 sampling events) and was correlated to the total suspended sediment load ( r² = 0.69), which was removed in the reactor by physical filtration. This study shows that organic carbon bioreactors can be a strong source of MeHg production when SO₄(2-) reducing conditions develop; however, maintaining NO₃-N concentrations > 0.5 mg L suppresses the production of MeHg.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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