Regular articles

Potential bioavailability of mercury in humus-coated clay minerals

Daiwen Zhu , Huan Zhong


Received December 09, 2014,Revised February 02, 2015, Accepted February 25, 2015, Available online June 12, 2015

Volume 36,2015,Pages 48-55

It is well-known that both clay and organic matter in soils play a key role in mercury biogeochemistry, while their combined effect is less studied. In this study, kaolinite, vermiculite, and montmorillonite were coated or not with humus, and spiked with inorganic mercury (IHg) or methylmercury (MeHg). The potential bioavailability of mercury to plants or deposit-feeders was assessed by CaCl2 or bovine serum albumin (BSA) extraction. For uncoated clay, IHg or MeHg extraction was generally lower in montmorillonite, due to its greater number of functional groups. Humus coating increased partitioning of IHg (0.5%–13.7%) and MeHg (0.8%–52.9%) in clay, because clay-sorbed humus provided more strong binding sites for mercury. Furthermore, humus coating led to a decrease in IHg (3.0%–59.8% for CaCl2 and 2.1%–5.0% for BSA) and MeHg (8.9%–74.6% for CaCl2 and 0.5%–8.2% for BSA) extraction, due to strong binding between mercury and clay-sorbed humus. Among various humus-coated clay particles, mercury extraction by CaCl2 (mainly through cation exchange) was lowest in humus-coated vermiculite, explained by the strong binding between humus and vermiculite. The inhibitory effect of humus on mercury bioavailability was also evidenced by the negative relationship between mercury extraction by CaCl2 and mercury in the organo-complexed fraction. In contrast, extraction of mercury by BSA (principally through complexation) was lowest in humus-coated montmorillonite. This was because BSA itself could be extensively sorbed onto montmorillonite. Results suggested that humus-coated clay could substantially decrease the potential bioavailability of mercury in soils, which should be considered when assessing risk in mercury-contaminated soils.

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