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Laboratory and field evaluation of diffusive gradient in thin films (DGT) for monitoring levels of dissolved mercury in natural river water

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The diffusive gradient in the thin films (DGT) technique was tested to measure dissolved mercury (Hg) both in laboratory aqueous solutions and in situ in river water. For this purpose, a commercial ready-to-use and specific-for-Hg DGT device was used. Each sampler consisted of a filter membrane-agarose gel as the diffusive layer and a Spheron-Thiol resin in polyacrylamide gel as the binding agent. Basic performance assays at the laboratory with this type of DGT unit confirmed the applicability of Fick's first law for DGT measurements. The diffusion coefficient of MeHg in the agarose diffusive gel was 8.50 × 10−6 cm2 s−1 at 25°C. Several field studies were also carried out in two different rivers of the Ebro River basin (NE Spain) affected by Hg wastes released by the chlor-alkali industry. Hg concentrations determined by DGT were generally much lower than the results obtained through direct measurements of the river water. In addition, the results of a time series experiment also performed in the field show that the amount of Hg accumulated in the resin does not increase at all with the exposure time. This may be explained by the underestimation of the truly dissolved Hg fraction due to the formation of a biofilm layer on the surface of the samplers, thus clogging the filter and preventing Hg species from diffusing through it. Consequently, it was demonstrated that the DGT technique presents important limitations for measuring Hg in polluted rivers characterised by a high biomass load (eutrophic), whereas its performance was demonstrated to be correct in oligotrophic waters.
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Keywords: DGT; bioavailable; mercury; methylmercury; river water

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Environmental Chemistry Department, Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research, IDAEA-CSIC, Barcelona, Spain

Publication date: December 20, 2012

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