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Net methyl mercury production versus water quality improvement in constructed wetlands: Trade-offs in pollution control

Publication Type:

Journal Article


WETLANDS, Volume 25, Issue 3, p.748-757 (2005)


In a system with mercury contamination, there are trade-offs between beneficial functions of a wetland and environmental risk of methyl mercury (MeHg) production. This project used five wetland mesocosms with three different experimental designs to assess the potential for nutrient, sediment, and total mercury (THg) removal and MeHg production associated with a proposed a large-scale wetland system. The latter was suggested for the mouth of Steamboat Creek (Nevada, USA) at the confluence with the Truckee River. Steamboat Creek has been documented to have high mercury concentrations and is a major source of nutrients to the river. Mesocosms that had creek sediments as the base and creek water as inflows resulted in decreasing THg concentration by 72-82%. Average percent nitrogen and phosphorus and suspended solids removal were 43%, 30%, and 70%, respectively. Net MeHg production was observed during spring, summer, and fall months; however, in the winter, these mesocosms acted as a sink. One wetland mesocosm with sediments low in mercury and creek water showed similar trends. Mesocosms with creek sediments and water low in mercury were a source of MeHg year round, with outflow concentrations 10 to 200 times that in the inflow. Based on the developed data, the environmental risk of the proposed large-scale wetland would be an increase of methyl mercury concentration in creek water that reaches the Truckee River by as much as 20 to 75%. However, the wetland would also be a significant sink for nutrients, suspended solids, and total mercury, decreasing the amount of mercury available for methylation downstream.