Diverse analytical techniques are available to determine the particle size distribution of potentially toxic elements in matrices of environmental interest such as soil, sediments, freshwater and groundwater. However, a single technique is often not exhaustive enough to determine both particle size distribution and element concentration. In the present work, the investigation of mercury in soil samples collected from a polluted industrial site was performed by using a new analytical approach which makes use of sedimentation field-flow fractionation (SdFFF) coupled to cold vapour generation electrothermal atomic absorption spectroscopy (CV-ETAAS). The Hg concentration in the SdFFF fractions revealed a broad distribution from about 0.1 to 1 μm, roughly following the particle size distributions, presenting a maximum at about 400–700 nm in diameter. A correlation between the concentration of Hg in the colloidal fraction and organic matter (O.M.) content in the soil samples was also found. However, this correlation is less likely to be related to Hg sorption to soil O.M. but rather to the presence of colloidal mercuric sulfide particles whose size is probably controlled by the occurrence of dissolved O.M. The presence of O.M. could have prevented the aggregation of smaller particles, leading to an accumulation of mercuric sulfides in the colloidal fraction. In this respect, particle size distribution of soil samples can help to understand the role played by colloidal particles in mobilising mercury (also as insoluble compounds) and provide a significant contribution in determining the environmental impact of this toxic element.
You have access to this article
Please wait while we load your content...
Something went wrong. Try again?