September 10, 2021
Journal Article

Mechanistic Investigation of Dimethylmercury Formation Mediated by a Sulfide Mineral Surface


Mercury (Hg) pollution is a global environmental problem, but many key transformations among 29 various Hg species are not well understood. Although anaerobic microorganisms are the primary 30 producers of monomethylmercury (MMeHg), the abiotic formation of dimethylmercury (DMeHg) 31 from MMeHg have been suggested to account for a large portion of DMeHg in the ocean. It has 32 been shown that abiotic formation of DMeHg from MMeHg can be facilitated by reduced sulfur 33 groups on mineral surfaces. However, a detailed mechanistic understanding of this reaction is 34 lacking. Here we perform density functional theory (DFT) calculations to explore mechanisms of 35 DMeHg formation on the 110 surface of a CdS(s) (hawleyite) nanoparticle. We show that 36 coordination of MMeHg substituents to adjacent reduced sulfur groups protruding from the surface 37 facilitate DMeHg formation and that the reaction proceeds through direct transmethylation from 38 one MMeHg substituent to another. Solvation effects were found to play an important role in the 39 surface reconstruction of the nanoparticle and in decreasing the energetic barrier for DMeHg 40 formation. We also investigate DMeHg formation from MMeHg mediated by organic dithiols and 41 compare the results to those mediated by the mineral surface. In contrast to the surface reaction, 42 the calculations suggest that dithiol-mediated formation of DMeHg instead proceeds through a 43 mechanism in which Hg–Hg interactions activate a methyl group from one MMeHg substituent 44 for intramolecular transfer to the adjacent MMeHg substituent. These findings refine previously 45 proposed mechanisms of abiotic DMeHg formation and fill gaps in our understanding of global 46 Hg cycling in the environment.

Published: September 10, 2021


Lian P., Z. Mou, C.J. Cooper, R.C. Johnston, S.C. Brooks, B. Gu, and N. Govind, et al. 2021. "Mechanistic Investigation of Dimethylmercury Formation Mediated by a Sulfide Mineral Surface." Journal of Physical Chemistry A 125, no. 24:5397–5405. PNNL-SA-146897. doi:10.1021/acs.jpca.1c04014