Project

Modelo de emisión de mercurio desde suelos contaminados. Implementación y aplicación práctica (CTM2012-33918) (2012-2015)

Goal: Project active between 2012 and 2015, funded by Spanish ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. Aimed to analyse the process of mercury emissions from contaminated soils, and the consequences on plants affected by the presence of such emissions.

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Pablo León Higueras
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Abstract. Mercury is a global pollutant that can be transported long distances after its emission by primary sources. Most of the problems associated with Hg as a toxic element dispersed worldwide arise due to its incorporation into the trophic chain and its conversion into organic forms. However, in the vicinity of anthropogenic sources, the most common problem is the presence of Hg in inorganic forms and in the gaseous state in the atmosphere. Risk assessments related to the presence of gaseous Hg in the atmosphere at these contaminated sites are often based on episodic and incomplete data, which do not properly characterize the Hg cycle in the area of interest or consider spatial or temporal terms. The aim of the work described was to identify criteria to obtain the minimum amount of data with the maximum meaning and representativeness in order to delimitate risk areas, both in a spatial and temporal respect. Data were acquired from September 2014 to August 2015 and included vertical and horizontal Hg measurements. A statistical analysis was carried out and this included the construction of a model of vertical Hg movements that could be used to predict the location and timing of Hg inhalation risk. A monitoring strategy was designed in order to identify the relevant criteria and this involved the measurement of gaseous Hg in a vertical section at low altitude (i.e., where humans are present) and in horizontal transects to characterize appropriately the transport cycle of gaseous Hg in the lower layers of the atmosphere. The measurements were carried out over time in order to obtain information on daily and seasonal variability. The study site selected was Almadenejos (Ciudad Real, Spain), a village polluted with mercury related to decommissioned mining and metallurgical facilities belonging to the Almadén mercury mining district. The vertical profiles revealed that higher Total Gaseous Mercury concentrations are present at lower altitude during nocturnal hours and at higher altitude at dawn and dusk. Horizontal profiles showed that the background values were close to 6 ng m<sup>−3</sup> except in the spring months, when they rose to 13 ng m<sup>−3</sup> and increased the area affected by mercury emissions to more than 4 km around the mining and metallurgical sites. On a daily basis the most important process involved in gaseous mercury movements is the mixing layer, which begins in the early morning and finishes at nightfall. Vertical transferences are predominant when this process is active, i.e., in all seasons except winter, while major sources act as constant suppliers of gaseous Hg to the mixing cell, thus producing Hg deposition at dusk. Conversely, horizontal transferences prevail during the hours of darkness and the main factors are major and minor sources, solar radiation, wind speed and topography. In terms of risk assessment, and based on the model constructed to infer atmospheric Hg concentrations based on micrometeorological parameters, the nights carry greater risk than the days in all seasons (54 % in spring and winter, 72 % in summer) except in autumn, when 99 % of the hours of risk occurred during the day. The main factors involved in the creation of high-risk periods are those related to dilution (or its absence): namely wind speed and solar radiation at null levels. The extent of the area affected by an emission source is independent of its importance in terms of absolute emissions. The affected zone did not extend beyond 100 metres from the location of the source during the daytime period and 200 metres in the night-time. Under the worst micrometeorological conditions, it was predicted that the affected area would cover almost the entire town of Almadenejos, although these risk conditions only represent 11.34 % of the hours in an annual period. The results of this study highlight the possible importance of the relief in the distribution of gaseous mercury in the proximity of discrete sources. Further studies, including a detailed topographic model of the area, are required in order to make precise estimations of the influence of this parameter, which appears in this study to be less important than the other factors but is still appreciable.
Jose A Amoros
added a research item
Mercury is easily transformed from the elemental state or numerous other mercury compounds to its gaseous form. The gaseous mercury species remain in the atmosphere for sufficient time to be carried long distances. In many cases, some of these differences produce a bias in experimental research, especially for the understanding of the soil-plant-atmosphere system in polluted sites. The main controversy concerns the preferential uptake route in plants and whether the process is reversible or not. The aims of the work described here were to acquire a better knowledge of the transfer routes in the soil-plant-atmosphere system and to ascertain whether plant mercury uptake is reversible. Factors such as the presence of mercury in the atmosphere and irrigation water were evaluated using two common species in Castilla-La Mancha: vines (Vitis vinifera, L.) and olive trees (Olea europea, L.). The results provide evidence of three important aspects: plant mercury uptake via roots does occur but it seems minor; plant mercury uptake from the atmosphere involves a continuous exchange at the leaf-atmosphere interface; and plant mercury bioaccumulation seems to be a reversible process. These findings have implications for the use of plants as biomonitors by restricting the exposure times, and in phytoremediation, particularly for polluted soils.
Pablo León Higueras
added a project goal
Project active between 2012 and 2015, funded by Spanish ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. Aimed to analyse the process of mercury emissions from contaminated soils, and the consequences on plants affected by the presence of such emissions.