Elemental mercury: Its unique properties affect its behavior and fate in the environment

Environ Pollut. 2017 Oct;229:69-86. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.04.101. Epub 2017 May 31.


Elemental mercury (Hg0) has different behavior in the environment compared to other pollutants due to its unique properties. It can remain in the atmosphere for long periods of time and so can travel long distances. Through air-surface (e.g., vegetation or ocean) exchange (dry deposition), Hg0 can enter terrestrial and aquatic systems where it can be converted into other Hg species. Despite being ubiquitous and playing a key role in Hg biogeochemical cycling, Hg0 behavior in the environment is not well understood. The objective of this review is to provide a better understanding of how the unique physicochemical properties of Hg0 affects its cycling and chemical transformations in different environmental compartments. The first part focuses on the fundamental chemistry of Hg0, addressing why Hg0 is liquid at room temperature and the formation of amalgam, Hg halide, and Hg chalcogenides. The following sections discuss the long-range transport of Hg0 as well as its redistribution in the atmosphere, aquatic and terrestrial systems, in particular, on the sorption/desorption processes that occur in each environmental compartment as well as the involvement of Hg0 in chemical transformation processes driven by photochemical, abiotic, and biotic reactions.

Keywords: Biogeochemical cycling; Elemental mercury; Unique properties.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atmosphere / chemistry
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Mercury / analysis*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Mercury