Mercury–Organic Matter Interactions in Soils and Sediments: Angel or Devil?

  • Mei He
  • Lei Tian
  • Hans Fredrik Veiteberg Braaten
  • Qingru Wu
  • Jie Luo
  • Li-Mei Cai
  • Jiang-Hui Meng
  • Yan LinEmail author
Focused Review


Many studies have suggested that organic matter (OM) substantially reduces the bioavailability and risks of mercury (Hg) in soils and sediments; however, recent reports have supported that OM greatly accelerates Hg methylation and increases the risks of Hg exposure. This study aims to summarize the interactions between Hg and OM in soils and sediments and improve our understanding of the effects of OM on Hg methylation. The results show that OM characteristics, promotion of the activity of Hg-methylating microbial communities, and the microbial availability of Hg accounted for the acceleration of Hg methylation which increases the risk of Hg exposure. These three key aspects were driven by multiple factors, including the types and content of OM, Hg speciation, desorption and dissolution kinetics and environmental conditions.


Organic matter Methyl-mercury Hg Bioavailability Microbial methylation 



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41472124), PetroChina Innovation Foundation (Grant Nos. 2015D-5006-0210 and 2016D-5007-0702), Natural Science Foundation of Hubei Province (Grant Nos. 2016CFB178 and 2016CFB601), the Yangtze Youth Fund (Grant No. 2016cqr14) and China Scholarship Council (Grant Nos. 201708420108 and 201708420260).

Supplementary material

128_2018_2523_MOESM1_ESM.docx (31 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 31 KB)


  1. Baker A, Spencer RGM (2004) Characterization of dissolved orgnic matter from source to sea using fluorescence and absorbance spectroscopy. Sci Total Environ 333:217–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bloom NS (1992) On the chemical form of mercury in edible fish and marine invertebrate tissue. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 49(5):1010–1017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bravo AG, Bouchet S, Tolu J et al (2017) Molecular composition of organic matter controls methylHg formation in boreal lakes. Nat Commun 8:14255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chiasson-Gould SA, Blais JM et al (2014) Dissolved organic matter kinetically controls mercury bioavailability to bacteria. Environ Sci Technol 48:3153–3161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Correia RRS, Guimaraes JRD (2017) Mercury methylation and sulfate reduction rates in mangrove sediments, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: the role of different microorganism consortia. Chemosphere 167:438–443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Eklof K, Bishop K, Bertilsson S et al (2018) Formation of Hg methylation hotspots as a consequence of forestry operations. Sci Total Environ 613:1069–1078CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Eklöf K, Lidskog R, Bishop K (2016) Managing Swedish forestry’s impact on Hg in fish: defining the impact and mitigation measures. Ambio 45:163–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. French TD, Houben AJ, Desforges JPW et al (2014) Dissolved organic carbon thresholds affect mercury bioaccumulation in Arctic Lakes. Environ Sci Technol 48:3162–3168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frohne T, Rinklebe J, Langer U et al (2012) Biogeochemical factors affecting Hg methylation rate in two contaminated floodplain soils. Biogeosciences 9:493–507CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gerbig CA, Kim CS, Stegemeier JP et al (2011) Formation of nanocolloidal metacinnabar in mercury-DOM-sulfide systems. Environ Sci Technol 45:9180–9187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Graham AM, Aiken GR, Gilmour CC (2012) Dissolved organic matter enhances microbial Hg methylation under sulfidic conditions. Environ Sci Technol 46:2715–2723CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Graham AM, Aiken GR, Gilmour CC (2013) Effect of dissolved organic matter source and character on microbial Hg methylation in Hg-S-DOM solutions. Environ Sci Technol 47:5746–5754CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Graham AM, Cameron-Burr KT, Hajic HA et al (2017) Sulfurization of dissolved organic matter increases Hg-sulfide-dissolved organic matter bioavailability to a Hg-methylating bacterium. Environ Sci Technol 51:9080–9088CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hammerschmidt CR, Fitzgerald WF (2010) Iron-mediated photochemical decomposition of methylHg in an Arctic Alaskan Lake. Environ Sci Technol 44:6138–6143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hammerschmidt CR, Fitzgerald WF, Balcom PH et al (2008) Organic matter and sulfide inhibit methylHg production in sediments of New York/New Jersey Harbor. Mar Chem 109:165–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hang XS, Gang FQ, Chen YD et al (2018) Evaluation of mercury uptake and distribution in rice (Oryza sativa L.). Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 100:451–456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jeremiason JD, Portner JC, Aiken GR et al (2015) Photoreduction of Hg(ii) and photodemethylation of methylHg: the key role of thiol sites on dissolved OM. Environ Sci Proc Impacts 17:1892–1903CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jonsson S, Skyllberg U, Nilsson MB et al (2012) Mercury methylation rates for geochemically relevant Hg-II species in sediments. Environ Sci Technol 46:11653–11659CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Klapstein SJ, O’Driscoll NJ (2018) Methylmercury biogeochemistry in freshwater ecosystems: a review focusing on DOM and Photodemethylation. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 100:14–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kronberg RM, Jiskra M, Wiederhold JG et al (2016) Methyl mercury formation in hillslope soils of boreal forests: the role of forest harvest and anaerobic microbes. Environ Sci Technol 50:9177–9186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Liang P, Gao XF, You QZ et al (2016) Role of mariculture in the loading and speciation of mercury at the coast of the East China Sea. Environ Pollut 218:1037–1044CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Liem-Nguyen V, Jonsson S, Skyllberg U et al (2016) Effects of nutrient loading and mercury chemical speciation on the formation and degradation of methylHg in estuarine sediment. Environ Sci Technol 50:6983–6990CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Liem-Nguyen V, Skyllberg U, Bjorn E (2017) Thermodynamic modeling of the solubility and chemical speciation of mercury and methylHg driven by organic thiols and micromolar sulfide concentrations in Boreal wetland soils. Environ Sci Technol 51:3678–3686CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Liu YR, Wang JJ, Zheng YM et al (2014) Patterns of bacterial diversity along a long-term mercury-contaminated gradient in the paddy soils. Microb Ecol 68:575–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Liu YR, Dong JX, Han LL et al (2016) Influence of rice straw amendment on Hg methylation and nitrification in paddy soils. Environ Pollut 209:53–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ma L, Zhong H, Wu YG (2015) Effects of metal-soil contact time on the extraction of mercury from soils. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 94:399–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Marvin-DiPasquale M, Windham-Myers L, Agee JL et al (2014) MethylHg production in sediment from agricultural and non-agricultural wetlands in the Yolo Bypass, California, USA. Sci Total Environ 484:288–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mazrui NM, Jonsson S, Thota S et al (2016) Enhanced availability of Hg bound to dissolved organic matter for methylation in marine sediments. Geochim Cosmochim Ac 194:153–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Meng B, Feng X, Qiu G et al (2016) The impacts of organic matter on the distribution and methylation of Hg in a hydroelectric reservoir in Wujiang River, Southwest China. Environ Toxicol Chem 35:191–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Miller CL, Mason RP, Gilmour CC et al (2009) Influence of dissolved organic matter on the complexation of Hg under sulfidic conditions. Environ Toxicol Chem 26:624–633CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Moreau JW, Gionfriddo CM, Krabbenhoft DP et al (2015) The effect of natural organic matter on mercury methylation by desulfobulbus propionicus 1pr3. Front Microbiol 6:1389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ndungu K, Schaanning M, Braaten HFV (2016) Effects of organic matter addition on methylmercury formation in capped and uncapped marine sediments. Water Res 103:401–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Parks JM, Johs A, Bridou R et al (2013) The genetic basis for bacterial mercury methylation. Science 339:1332–1335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Qian Y, Yin X, Lin H et al (2014) Why dissolved organic matter enhances photodegradation of methylHg. Environ Sci Technol Lett 1:426–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rajaee M, Obiri S, Green A et al (2015) Integrated assessment of artisanal and small-scale gold mining in Ghana-Part 2: natural sciences review. Int J Environ Res Public Health 12:8971–9011CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rothenberg SE, Feng X (2012) Mercury cycling in a flooded rice paddy. J Geophys Res 117:1–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rothenberg SE, Windham-Myers L, Creswell JE (2014) Rice methylHg exposure and mitigation: a comprehensive review. Environ Res 133:407–423CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schartup AT, Mason RP, Balcom PH et al (2013) MethylHg production in estuarine sediments: role of orgainc matter. Environ Sci Technol 47:695–700CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Shu R, Dang F, Zhong H (2016a) Effects of incorporating differently-treated rice straw on phytoavailability of methylHg in soil. Chemosphere 145:457–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Shu R, Wang YJ, Zhong H (2016b) Biochar amendment reduced methylHg accumulation in rice plants. J Hazard Mater 313:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Skyllberg U (2010) Mercury biogeochemistry in soils and sediments. Dev Soil Sci 34:379–410Google Scholar
  42. Tai C, Li Y, Yin Y et al (2014) MethylHg photodegradation in surface water of the Florida Everglades: importance of dissolved organic matter-methylHg complexation. Environ Sci Technol 48:7333–7340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tossell JA (1998) Theoretical study of the photodecomposition of methyl Hg complexes. J Phys Chem A 102:3587–3591CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Windham-Myers L, Fleck JA, Ackerman JT et al (2014a) Mercury cycling in agricultural and managed wetlands: a synthesis of methylHg production, hydrologic export, and bioaccumulation from an integrated field study. Sci Total Environ 484:221–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Windham-Myers L, Marvin-DiPasquale M, Stricker AC et al (2014b) Mercury cycling in agricultural and managed wetlands of California, USA: experimental evidence of vegetation-driven changes in sediment biogeochemistry and methylHg production. Sci Total Environ 484:300–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Windham-Myers L, Marvin-Dipasquale M, Kakouros E et al (2014c) Mercury cycling in agricultural and managed wetlands of California, USA: seasonal influences of vegetation on Hg methylation, storage, and transport. Sci Total Environ 484:308–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Yin D, Wang Y, Jiang T et al (2018) MethylHg production in soil in the water-level-fluctuating zone of the Three Gorges Reservoir, China: the key role of low-molecular-weight organic acids. Environ Pollut 235:186–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. You R, Liang L, Qin CQ et al (2016) Effect of low molecular weight organic acids on the chemical speciation and activity of mercury in the soils of the water-level-fluctuating zone of the three Gorges reservoir. Huanjing Kexue 37:173–179Google Scholar
  49. Yu XJ, Li HX, Pan K et al (2012) Mercury distribution, speciation and bioavailability in sediments from the Pearl River Estuary, Southern China. Mar Pollut Bull 64:1699–1704CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Zhang D, Yin Y, Li Y et al (2017) Critical role of natural organic matter in photodegradation of methylHg in water: molecular weight and interactive effects with other environmental factors. Sci Total Environ 578:535–541CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Zhang W, Cao FF, Yang LY et al (2018a) Distribution, fractionation and risk assessment of Hg in surficial sediments of Nansi Lake, China. Environ Geochem Health 40:115–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zhang Y, Liu YR, Lei P et al (2018b) Biochar and nitrate reduce risk of methylHg in soils under straw amendment. Sci Total Environ 619:384–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Zhao L, Chen H, Lu X et al (2017) Contrasting effects of dissolved organic matter on mercury methylation by geobacter sulfurreducens PCA and Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132. Environ Sci Technol 51:10468–10475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zhao JY, Ye ZH, Zhong H (2018) Rice root exudates affect microbial methylHg production in paddy soils. Environ Pollut. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zhong SQ, Qiu GL, Feng XB et al (2018) Sulfur and iron influence the transformation and accumulation of Hg and methylHg in the soil-rice system. J Soil Sediment 18:578–585CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zhu DW, Zhong H (2015) Potential bioavailability of Hg in humus-coated clay minerals. J Environ Sci 36:48–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zhu HK, Zhong H, Evans D et al (2015a) Effects of rice residue incorporation on the speciation, potential bioavailability and risk of Hg in a contaminated paddy soil. J Hazard Mater 293:64–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Zhu HK, Zhong H, Fu FJ et al (2015b) Incorporation of decomposed crop straw affects potential phytoavailability of nercury in a mining-contaminated farming soil. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 95:254–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Zhu HK, Zhong H, Wu JL (2016) Incorporating rice residues into paddy soils affects methylHg accumulation in rice. Chemosphere 152:259–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Zhu W, Song Y, Adediran GA et al (2018) Mercury transformations in resuspended contaminated sediment controlled by redox conditions, chemical speciation and sources of OM. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 220:158–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Resources and EnvironmentYangtze UniversityWuhanPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.School of Petroleum EngineeringYangtze UniversityWuhanPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Norwegian Institute for Water ResearchOsloNorway
  4. 4.State Key Joint Laboratory of Environment Simulation and Pollution Control, School of EnvironmentTsinghua UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  5. 5.Hubei Cooperative Innovation Center of Unconventional Oil and GasYangtze UniversityWuhanPeople’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations