Articles | Volume 13, issue 8
Research article
27 Apr 2016
Research article |  | 27 Apr 2016

Mercury methylation in paddy soil: source and distribution of mercury species at a Hg mining area, Guizhou Province, China

Lei Zhao, Christopher W. N Anderson, Guangle Qiu, Bo Meng, Dingyong Wang, and Xinbin Feng

Abstract. Rice paddy plantation is the dominant agricultural land use throughout Asia. Rice paddy fields have been identified as important sites for methylmercury (MeHg) production in the terrestrial ecosystem and a primary pathway of MeHg exposure to humans in mercury (Hg) mining areas. We compared the source and distribution of Hg species in different compartments of the rice paddy during a complete rice-growing season at two different typical Hg-contaminated mining sites in Guizhou province, China: an abandoned site with a high Hg concentration in soil but a low concentration in the atmosphere and a current-day artisanal site with a low concentration in soil but a high concentration in the atmosphere. Our results showed that the flux of new Hg to the ecosystem from irrigation and atmospheric deposition was insignificant relative to the pool of old Hg in soil; the dominant source of MeHg to paddy soil is in situ methylation of inorganic Hg (IHg). Elevated MeHg concentrations and the high proportion of Hg as MeHg in paddy water and the surface soil layer at the artisanal site demonstrated active Hg methylation at this site only. We propose that the in situ production of MeHg in paddy water and surface soil is dependent on elevated Hg in the atmosphere and the consequential deposition of new Hg into a low-pH anoxic geochemical system. The absence of depth-dependent variability in the MeHg concentration in soil cores collected from the abandoned Hg mining site, consistent with the low concentration of Hg in the atmosphere and high pH of the paddy water and irrigation water, suggested that net production of MeHg at this site was limited. We propose that the concentration of Hg in ambient air is an indicator for the risk of MeHg accumulation in paddy rice.

Final-revised paper