Mercury speciation and mobilization in a wastewater-contaminated groundwater plume. Academic Article uri icon


  • We measured the concentration and speciation of mercury (Hg) in groundwater down-gradient from the site of wastewater infiltration beds operated by the Massachusetts Military Reservation, western Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Total mercury concentrations in oxic, mildly acidic, uncontaminated groundwater are 0.5-1 pM, and aquifer sediments have 0.5-1 ppb mercury. The plume of impacted groundwater created by the wastewater disposal is still evident, although inputs ceased in 1995, as indicated by anoxia extending at least 3 km down-gradient from the disposal site. Solutes indicative of a progression of anaerobic metabolisms are observed vertically and horizontally within the plume, with elevated nitrate concentrations and nitrate reduction surrounding a region with elevated iron concentrations indicating iron reduction. Mercury concentrations up to 800 pM were observed in shallow groundwater directly under the former infiltration beds, but concentrations decreased with depth and with distance down-gradient. Mercury speciation showed significant connections to the redox and metabolic state of the groundwater, with relatively little methylated Hg within the iron reducing sector of the plume, and dominance of this form within the higher nitrate/ammonium zone. Furthermore, substantial reduction of Hg(II) to Hg(0) within the core of the anoxic zone was observed when iron reduction was evident. These trends not only provide insight into the biogeochemical factors controlling the interplay of Hg species in natural waters, but also support hypotheses that anoxia and eutrophication in groundwater facilitate the mobilization of natural and anthropogenic Hg from watersheds/aquifers, which can be transported down-gradient to freshwaters and the coastal zone.

publication date

  • 2013