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Keywords:

  • Mercury pollution;
  • Plant uptake;
  • Total gaseous mercury;
  • Bioavailable mercury;
  • Human health risk

Abstract

The level of mercury bioaccumulation in wild plants; the distribution of bioavailable Hg, elemental Hg, and total Hg in soil; and the concentration of total gaseous Hg (TGM) in ambient air was studied at three different mining sites (SiKeng [SK], WuKeng [WK], and GouXi [GX]) in the Wanshan mercury mining district of China. Results of the present study showed that the distribution of soil total Hg, elemental Hg, bioavailable Hg, and TGM varies across the three mining sites. Higher soil total Hg (29.4–1,972.3 mg/kg) and elemental Hg (19.03–443.8 mg/kg) concentrations were recorded for plots SK and WK than for plot GX. Bioavailable Hg was lower at plot SK and GX (SK, 3–12 ng/g; GX, 9–14 ng/g) than at plot WK (11–1,063 ng/g), although the TGM concentration in the ambient air was significantly higher for plot GX (52,723 ng/m3) relative to WK (106 ng/m3) and SK (43 ng/m3). Mercury in sampled herbage was elevated and ranged from 0.8 to 4.75 mg/kg (SK), from 2.17 to 34.38 mg/kg (WK), and from 47.45 to 136.5 mg/kg (GX). Many of the sampled plants are used as fodder or for medicinal purposes. High shoot Hg concentrations may therefore pose an unacceptable human health risk. Statistical analysis of the recorded data showed that the Hg concentration in plant shoots was positively correlated with TGM and that the Hg concentration in roots was positively correlated with the bioavailable Hg concentration in the soil. The bioaccumulation factor (BAF) in the present study was defined with reference to the concentration of bioavailable Hg in the soil (Hg[root]/Hg[bioavail]). Three plant species, Macleaya cordata L., Achillea millefolium L., and Pteris vittata L., showed enhanced accumulation of Hg and therefore may have potential for use in the phytoremediation of soils of the Wanshan mining area. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011;30:2725–2731. © 2011 SETAC