Methylmercury (MeHg) is a potent neurotoxin and has great adverse health impacts on humans. Organisms and sunlight-mediated demethylation are well-known detoxification pathways of MeHg, yet whether abiotic environmental components contribute to MeHg degradation remains poorly known. Here, we report that MeHg can be degraded by trivalent manganese (Mn(III)), a naturally occurring and widespread oxidant. We found that 28 ± 4% MeHg could be degraded by Mn(III) located on synthesized Mn dioxide (MnO2-x) surfaces during the reaction of 0.91 μg·L-1 MeHg and 5 g·L-1 mineral at an initial pH of 6.0 for 12 h in 10 mM NaNO3 at 25 °C. The presence of low-molecular-weight organic acids (e.g., oxalate and citrate) substantially enhances MeHg degradation by MnO2-x via the formation of soluble Mn(III)-ligand complexes, leading to the cleavage of the carbon-Hg bond. MeHg can also be degraded by reactions with Mn(III)-pyrophosphate complexes, with apparent degradation rate constants comparable to those by biotic and photolytic degradation. Thiol ligands (cysteine and glutathione) show negligible effects on MeHg demethylation by Mn(III). This research demonstrates potential roles of Mn(III) in degrading MeHg in natural environments, which may be further explored for remediating heavily polluted soils and engineered systems containing MeHg.
Keywords: adsorption; decomposition; manganese oxides; methylmercury; trivalent manganese.