Formation of artifact methylmercury during extraction from a sediment reference material

Anal Chem. 2001 Dec 15;73(24):5930-6. doi: 10.1021/ac010721w.


We examined monomethylmercury (MMHg) in sediment reference material IAEA-405 and sediments from Long Island Sound. MMHg was extracted by both aqueous distillation and leaching with dilute solutions of nitric acid. MMHg was formed from both ambient and added inorganic mercury in extracts of IAEA-405 by either technique. Artifact MMHg in IAEA-405 was related linearly with ambient reactive mercury (HgR) in leachates having > 1.2 M acid, but little or no artifact was measured in less acidic extracts. Addition of potassium chloride enhanced extraction of HgR from LAEA-405 but had no effect on artifact MMHg for each leachate molarity tested. Mercury methylation occurred in solution and was a function of both the availability of HgR and a methylation potential, being limited by HgR in less acidic solutions (0.5-1.2 M) and by the methylation potential in more acidic ones (> 1.2 M). Formation of artifact MMHg in Long Island Sound sediments was inconclusive, but additions of inorganic mercury demonstrated that a potential exists. A potential for abiotic mercury methylation seems always present in sediment, and the availability of HgR appears to control MMHg production under environmental conditions. Abiotic methylation of mercury may occur in environs where the reactivity of inorganic mercury is enhanced, such as river-seawater mixing zones.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Artifacts*
  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Methylmercury Compounds / analysis*
  • Quality Control
  • Reference Standards
  • Seawater / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical