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Mercury converted to its most toxic form in ocean waters

Date:
April 27, 2011
Source:
University of Alberta
Summary:
New research has confirmed that a relatively harmless inorganic form of mercury found worldwide in ocean water is transformed into a potent neurotoxin in the seawater itself.

University of Alberta-led research has confirmed that a relatively harmless inorganic form of mercury found worldwide in ocean water is transformed into a potent neurotoxin in the seawater itself.

After two years of testing water samples across the Arctic Ocean, the researchers found that relatively harmless inorganic mercury, released from human activities like industry and coal burning, undergoes a process called methylation and becomes deadly monomethylmercury.

Unlike inorganic mercury, monomethylmercury is bio-accumulative, meaning its toxic effects are amplified as it progresses through the food chain from small sea creatures to humans. The greatest exposure for humans to monomethylmercury is through seafood. The researchers believe the methylation process happens in oceans all over the world and that the conversion is carried out by microbial life forms in the ocean.

The research team, led by recent U of A biological sciences PhD graduate Igor Lehnherr, incubated seawater samples collected from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Lehnherr says conversion of inorganic mercury to monomethylmercury accounts for approximately 50 per cent of this neurotoxin present in polar marine waters and could account for a significant amount of the mercury found in Arctic marine organisms. The researchers say this is the first direct evidence that inorganic mercury is methylated in seawater.

The research was published earlier this month online in Nature Geoscience.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Alberta. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Igor Lehnherr, Vincent L. St. Louis, Holger Hintelmann, Jane L. Kirk. Methylation of inorganic mercury in polar marine waters. Nature Geoscience, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1134

Cite This Page:

University of Alberta. "Mercury converted to its most toxic form in ocean waters." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110427131935.htm>.
University of Alberta. (2011, April 27). Mercury converted to its most toxic form in ocean waters. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110427131935.htm
University of Alberta. "Mercury converted to its most toxic form in ocean waters." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110427131935.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

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