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Photodecomposition of Methylmercury in Atmospheric Waters

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Volume: 11 | Issue: 3 | Pages: 290-298
DOI: 10.4209/aaqr.2010.11.0096
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D.R. Bittrich1, A.P. Rutter1, B.D. Hall1,2, J.J. Schauer 1

  • 1 Environmental Chemistry and Technology Program, University of Wisconsin Madison, WI 53705, USA
  • 2 Department of Biology, University of Regina, Regina, SK S4S 0A2, Canada


Experiments were conducted to empirically examine net changes in methylmercury concentration of atmospheric waters as function of irradiance. Methods were developed to allow experiments to be conducted at atmospherically relevant concentrations using trace metal clean techniques, over a range of aqueous matrices. Rain water was collected at Devil’s Lake State Park, WI, and simulated cloud water was created by water extraction of particulate matter collected at the same site. These waters were spiked with methyl mercury chloride and mercuric chloride and exposed to sunlight on the roof of a building. Experiments were conducted during typical summer conditions with respect to temperature, sunlight intensity and sunlight duration. For all cases, exposure to sunlight resulted in net loss of methylmercury: –0.022 ± 0.002 1/hr in rainwater at a total UVB flux of 8 kWhrs/m2; –0.008 ± 0.001 1/hr in simulated cloud water at a total UVB flux of 5.5 kWhrs/m2. For dark cases, no statistically significant formation in methylmercury from inorganic mercury was detected. Furthermore, laboratory experiments to form methylmercury from mercuric-acetate complexes did not give detectable yields. Given the results of this study, and the results of studies cited in this article, it is unlikely that homogeneous MeHg formation is fast enough to lead to the net formation of MeHg in atmospheric waters exposed to sunlight.


Cloud Fog Rain Formation Methylmercury

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