Assessment of mobility and bioavailability of mercury compounds in sewage sludge and composts
Content of heavy metals, including mercury, determines the method of management and disposal of sewage sludge. Excessive concentration of mercury in composts used as organic fertilizer may lead to accumulation of this element in soil and plant material. Fractionation of mercury in sewage sludge and composts provides a better understanding of the extent of mobility and bioavailability of the different mercury species and helps in more informed decision making on the application of sludge for agricultural purposes. The experimental setup comprises the composing process of the sewage sludge containing 13.1 mg kg−1 of the total mercury, performed in static reactors with forced aeration. In order to evaluate the bioavailability of mercury, its fractionation was performed in sewage sludge and composts during the process. An analytical procedure based on four-stage sequential extraction was applied to determine the mercury content in the ion exchange (water soluble and exchangeable Hg), base soluble (Hg bound to humic and fulvic acid), acid soluble (Hg bound to Fe/Mn oxides and carbonates) and oxidizable (Hg bound to organic matter and sulphide) fractions. The results showed that from 50.09% to 64.55% of the total mercury was strongly bound to organo-sulphur and inorganic sulphide; that during composting, increase of concentrations of mercury compounds strongly bound with organic matter and sulphides; and that mercury content in the base soluble and oxidizable fractions was strongly correlated with concentration of dissolved organic carbon in those fractions.