Learning is like mercury, one of the most powerful and excellent things in the world in skillful hands; in unskillful, the most mischievous.

– Alexander Pope

mercury testing

Mercury is not very abundant in the planet’s crust; however, even modest increases in the quantity of mercury being introduced into the global environment is a matter of considerable and growing concern. Mercury contamination can threaten the health of humans and wildlife, from industrial sites to the most remote wilderness areas. Mercury is considered a global pollutant since it can affect the environment in areas far removed from the point of its original release.

Since 1982, Brooks Applied Labs has devoted significant resources to the research and development of the analytical methods and instrumentation necessary to quantify mercury and methylmercury concentrations at ultra-low levels in even the most complex matrices. Our early research contributed substantially to the development and validation of EPA Method 1631 and EPA Method 1630 for the determination of mercury and methylmercury in waters at sub-parts-per-trillion levels.

Over the decades we have developed and perfected our analytical methods to determine mercury and methylmercury concentrations in even the most complex matrices.

We routinely analyze the following for mercury and methylmercury with some of the lowest detection limits (view our MDL & MRL Table) available to our clients:

- surface water- coal
- ground water- fish tissue
- wastewater- macroinvertebrates
- seawater- plankton
- soil- food
- sediments- human blood

Mercury Speciation Services Available:

The potential for mercury contamination to become an even more serious human and environmental health issue largely depends on whether the location in which it arrives is favorable to the conversion of inorganic mercury to the significantly more toxic organic form of methylmercury.

Research suggests that as inorganic mercury settles into the sediments of aquatic systems, prevailing anaerobic microorganisms are largely responsible for this methylation process. Particularly common locations for the methylation of mercury are wetlands, low-alkalinity lakes, organic-acid rich systems, recently flooded areas, and streams where severe fluctuations occur.

Responsible for more than three-quarters of all fish consumption advisories in the United States, methylmercury is a pollutant of the highest concern and it is likely that it will become a requirement that it be widely monitored. Brooks Applied Labs has methods for methylmercury detection from numerous matrices including all water types, soils and sediments, tissue samples, and human biomonitoring samples (blood, urine, hair, etc.)

Total Volatile Mercury
Elemental mercury is volatile and its vapor is emitted into the atmosphere where it will be eventually converted by photovoltaic oxidation into inorganic mercury. It is then deposited, mostly through precipitation, onto land or water bodies. Easily mobilized in water, inorganic mercury from deposition can reach larger aquatic systems. Dimethylmercury is another volatile and gaseous form of mercury that is highly toxic and can be released from landfill sites. These compounds are measured using Brooks Applied Lab’s method for total volatile mercury analysis. While this method has a very short holding time and rigorous sample collection and shipping protocols, it provides one of the only ways to accurately measure low levels of elemental mercury from water samples.
Acid-Labile Mercury
Some researchers in our field believe that aqueous divalent mercury is only a semi-quantitative analyte, and there are many different operationally-defined methods for its determination. These methods can produce a wide range of results for different sample types. Because there are so many variables when looking at this operationally-defined category of Hg species, it is important to have a consistent procedure that is rigidly followed. Brooks Applied Labs’ method for acid-labile Hg provides for a consistent measurement that is often used as a surrogate for Hg(II) or inorganic Hg analysis. Brooks Applied Labs’ method is operationally-defined as the available mercury after 21-28 days of preservation to pH 2 with HCl.
Ethylmercury has known neurotoxic effects that are similar to those of methylmercury, but unlike methylmercury, its tissue deposition and clearance rates in organisms are not well-understood. Brooks Applied Labs has developed methods for the effective detection of ethylmercury in water, tissue, and blood samples.


Types of Mercury Testing We Do:

Bioavailability in Sediments
When investigating mercury contaminated soils at legacy mining and industrial sites, measurements of the concentrations of total mercury in the soil are clearly necessary. However, the best approach to site remediation sometimes requires a fuller understanding of the environmental bioavailability and mobility of the particular mercury compounds found at the site.

There is growing interest in the regulatory community concerning bioavailability and Brooks Applied Labs remains one of the foremost experts in providing commercially practical solutions to determine the concentrations of various mercury compounds or fractions. Through advanced separation techniques, we are able to quantify mercury concentrations in sediments according to specific compound or fraction of interest.

One of the methods used at Brooks Applied Labs to assess the concentrations of mercury compounds in soils that belong to these specific classes is a selective sequential extraction (SSE) procedure. These selective sequential extractions represent the mobility of specific classes of mercury compounds and can be classified as fractions that are water soluble, weak acid soluble, organo-complexed, strongly complexed, or mineral bound. The first three of these fractions have been shown to be significantly more mobile, bioavailable, and susceptible to methylation.

Data regarding of the concentrations and ratios of these mercury compounds in contaminated soils can be critical to successful site remediation and containment of potentially hazardous materials.

Pore Water Extractions
The extraction of interstitial waters from sediment samples prior to the analyses of mercury or methylmercury requires particular precautions to prevent both potential contamination and species conversion. Brooks Applied Labs has developed custom procedures that allow the collection of pore water extractions while maintaining the integrity of the sample.
Elutriate Generation
Effectively evaluating the effects of dredging projects often entails replicating elutriate generation under the controlled conditions of the laboratory. Where mercury or methylmercury analyses are required, Brooks Applied Labs has developed custom procedures that ensure an accurate representation of the physical processes that occur without compromising the integrity of the sample through inadvertent contamination.