The fate of mercury in municipal wastewater treatment plants in China: Significance and implications for environmental cycling

J Hazard Mater. 2016 Apr 5;306:1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2015.11.058. Epub 2015 Dec 2.


Municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) play an important role in controlling pollutant discharges to surface waters. Previous studies suggested that the removal of mercury (Hg) by WWTPs was strongly correlated with solid removal. However, conclusions regarding possible transformations of Hg species within WWTPs were not consistent across those studies. We characterized total Hg (THg) and methylmercury (MeHg) concentrations and loads in a WWTP located in Jiaozuo, China, to further understand Hg fate and transformations in WWTPs. THg and MeHg were primarily associated with wastewater solids, and removal of both were greater than 90%; concentrations in the sewage were (2.0±2.7)×10(3)ng/L and 7.5±5.8ng/L, respectively. A mass balance calculation revealed that 80% of the THg input to the WWTP ended up in the sewage sludge (SS), while more than 70% of the influent MeHg mass was degraded, indicating WWTPs are an important sink for sewage-borne Hg. THg and MeHg concentrations in SS were (3.9±1.4)×10(3)ng/g and 6.3±2.3ng/g, respectively, suggesting SS could be a significant source of THg and MeHg to the environment if not handled properly. The significance of sewage and SS in the biogeochemical cycling of THg and MeHg in China is discussed.

Keywords: Fate; Mass balance; Methylmercury; Speciation; Wastewater treatment plant.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Methylmercury Compounds / analysis*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid*
  • Waste Water / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Mercury