How mercury becomes toxic in the environment

An interesting article/report in Medical News Today describes the work of a graduate student at Duke's Pratt School of Engingeering:

Naturally occurring organic matter in water and sediment appears to play a key role in helping microbes convert tiny particles of mercury in the environment into a form that is dangerous to most living creatures.

This finding is important, say Duke University environmental engineers, because it could change the way mercury in the environment is measured and therefore regulated. This particularly harmful form of the element, known as methylmercury, is a potent toxin for nerve cells. When ingested by organisms, it is not excreted and builds up in tissues or organs.

In a series of laboratory experiments, Amrika Deonarine, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, found that organic matter and chemical compounds containing sulfur - known as sulfides - can readily bind to form mercury sulfide nanoparticles. Since they are more soluble than larger particles, these nanoparticles may be the precursors to a process known as methylation.

Read the full report


Click here for more research on heavy metals

First Published in August 2009

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