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Environ Res. 2019 Aug 14;180:108668. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.108668. [Epub ahead of print]

Mercury speciation in preserved historical sludge: Potential risk from sludge contained within reclaimed land of Minamata Bay, Japan.

Author information

National Institute for Minamata Disease, Minamata, Kumamoto, 867-0008, Japan. Electronic address:
Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo, Hongo 7-31, Bunkyoku, Tokyo, 113-0033, Japan.
National Institute for Minamata Disease, Minamata, Kumamoto, 867-0008, Japan.
Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Kagoshima University, 1-21-35 Korimoto, Kagoshima, 890-0065, Japan.
IDEA Consultants, Inc., 1334-5 Riemon, Yaizu, Shizuoka, 421-0212, Japan.
Hinokuni Benthos Laboratory, 2133-4 Sumiyoshi-cho, Uto, Kumamoto, 869-0401, Japan.
Department of Biology, Ottawa University, Ottawa, ON, Canada.
Laboratory of Toxicology and Environmental Health, School of Medicine, IISPV, Universitat "Rovira i Virgili", Reus, Spain.
Department of Environmental Sciences, Jožef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia.


In the latter half of the 1950s, a large amount of methylmercury (MeHg) was discharged directly into Minamata Bay, Japan by a chemical factory, resulting in the contamination of the fish and shellfish. Ultimately, an outbreak of MeHg intoxication, called Minamata disease, occurred. From 1977 to 1988, the Kumamoto Prefectural Government dredged and transferred sediments exceeding 25 μg/g of total mercury (THg, dry basis) into a strictly segregated area of the bay near the wastewater outlet, then this area was landfilled. We conducted analyses of the mercury speciation in preserved Minamata Bay sludge samples (collected from inside of the bay prior to the termination of the remediation project; n=4) and recent Minamata Bay sediments (collected outside the dredging area of the bay; n=5) to evaluate the potential risk of the sludge/sediment leakage from the reclaimed land to the Minamata Bay. Median THg (dry basis) concentrations were 241 μg/g for the preserved sludge, 6.1 μg/g for the recent Minamata Bay sediments, and 0.18 μg/g for a single control sample; median MeHg concentrations (percentage of MeHg in THg) were 108 ng/g (0.031%), 3.7 ng/g (0.12%), and 0.71 ng/g (0.41%), respectively. In all the samples, the MeHg% decreased exponentially with increasing THg concentration. The extractability of THg from each sample into seawater was shown to be much lower than that of MeHg. The extracted MeHg was 0.86% for the preserved sludge, 4.57% for the recent Minamata Bay sediments, and 7.89% for the control. The predominant chemical form of mercury in the preserved sludge containing the highest THg concentration was found to be stable β-mercury sulfide (HgS) based on transmission electron microscopy linked with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (TEM-EDX) and X-ray absorption fine structure (XAFS) analyses.


Mercury sulfide; Methylmercury; Minamata bay; Reclaimed land; Sludge

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