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Kinetics of Methylmercury Production Revisited

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Environmental Science & Technology
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Laboratory measurements of the biologically mediated methylation of mercury (Hg) to the neurotoxin monomethylmercury (MMHg) often exhibit kinetics that are inconsistent with first-order kinetic models. Using time-resolved measurements of filter passing Hg and MMHg during methylation/demethylation assays, a multisite kinetic sorption model, and reanalyses of previous assays, we show that competing kinetic sorption reactions can lead to time-varying availability and apparent non-first-order kinetics in Hg methylation and MMHg demethylation. The new model employing a multisite kinetic sorption model for Hg and MMHg can describe the range of behaviors for time-resolved methylation/demethylation data reported in the literature including those that exhibit non-first-order kinetics. Additionally, we show that neglecting competing sorption processes can confound analyses of methylation/demethylation assays, resulting in rate constant estimates that are systematically biased low. Simulations of MMHg production and transport in a hypothetical periphyton biofilm bed illustrate the implications of our new model and demonstrate that methylmercury production may be significantly different than projected by single-rate first-order models.