Biogeochemical factors affecting the fate and transport of mercury in the terrestrial environment at Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Prabhakar Pant, Florida International University


Mercury (Hg) contamination problem in the United Sates has been an important issue due to its potential threat to human and ecological health. This thesis presents a study of two Hg-contaminated sites along the East Fork Poplar Creek (EFPC) at Oak Ridge. The top soils from the terrestrial areas, along with the soils from three vertical soil horizons at the EFPC bank were sampled and analyzed for total-Hg (THg), methyl-Hg, total-organic-carbon (TOC), and pH. The stream bank soils were also analyzed for the stable-Hg-isotopes (198Hg, 199Hg, 200Hg, 201Hg, and 202Hg). Furthermore, some of the soil samples (n=7) from the same study sites were investigated for phytoavailability of mercury as measured by degree of Hg translocation in aboveground biomass of Impatiens walleriana plants grown in the soils. The results showed a significant difference (p<0.001) in THg concentrations for the forest soils (42.40±4.98 mg/kg) and the grassland soils (8.71±2.30 mg/kg). The higher THg and methyl-Hg concentrations were commensurate with the higher TOC content in the soils (p<0.001). Also, the THg concentrations for the upstream site was higher (129.08±34.14 mg/kg) than the downstream site (24.31±3.47 mg/kg). The two sites also differed in their stable Hg isotope compositions (p<0.001 for δ199Hg). The stable isotope analysis indicated the increased level of mass dependent isotopic fractionation with increasing depths along the EFPC bank. The difference between the two study sites was also prominent in case of the Hg uptake by the plants, with higher Hg uptake from the upstream soils compared to that from the downstream soils. A significant correlation, r=0.93 p<0.01, was observed between the Hg uptake and the soil-THg concentrations. THg was higher in the leaves (1161.87±310.01 μg/kg) than in the flowers (206.13±55.23 μg/kg) or the stems (634.54±403.35μg/kg). The level of Hg contamination increased with decreasing distance from the point source and was highly influenced by plants/microbes, soil-organic-content, and Hg-speciation. The isotopic study indicated the existence of an additional Hg source in the EFPC watershed, possibly atmospheric Hg-deposition. These findings are worth taking into account while planning any Hg remediation effort and developing Hg loading criteria as per the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Program.

Subject Area

Biogeochemistry|Environmental science|Environmental engineering

Recommended Citation

Pant, Prabhakar, "Biogeochemical factors affecting the fate and transport of mercury in the terrestrial environment at Oak Ridge, Tennessee" (2009). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3393402.