Reduced organic sulfur (ROS) compounds are environmentally ubiquitous and play an important role in sulfur cycling as well as in biogeochemical cycles of toxic metals, in particular mercury. Development of effective methods for analysis of ROS in environmental samples and investigations on the interactions of ROS with mercury are critical for understanding the role of ROS in mercury cycling, yet both of which are poorly studied.
Covalent affinity chromatography-based methods were attempted for analysis of ROS in environmental water samples. A method was developed for analysis of environmental thiols, by preconcentration using affinity covalent chromatographic column or solid phase extraction, followed by releasing of thiols from the thiopropyl sepharose gel using TCEP and analysis using HPLC-UV or HPLC-FL. Under the optimized conditions, the detection limits of the method using HPLC-FL detection were 0.45 and 0.36 nM for Cys and GSH, respectively. Our results suggest that covalent affinity methods are efficient for thiol enrichment and interference elimination, demonstrating their promising applications in developing a sensitive, reliable, and useful technique for thiol analysis in environmental water samples.
The dissolution of mercury sulfide (HgS) in the presence of ROS and dissolved organic matter (DOM) was investigated, by quantifying the effects of ROS on HgS dissolution and determining the speciation of the mercury released from ROS-induced HgS dissolution. It was observed that the presence of small ROS (e.g., Cys and GSH) and large molecule DOM, in particular at high concentrations, could significantly enhance the dissolution of HgS. The dissolved Hg during HgS dissolution determined using the conventional 0.22 µm cutoff method could include colloidal Hg (e.g., HgS colloids) and truly dissolved Hg (e.g., Hg-ROS complexes). A centrifugal filtration method (with 3 kDa MWCO) was employed to characterize the speciation and reactivity of the Hg released during ROS-enhanced HgS dissolution. The presence of small ROS could produce a considerable fraction (about 40% of total mercury in the solution) of truly dissolved mercury (< 3 kDa), probably due to the formation of Hg-Cys or Hg-GSH complexes. The truly dissolved Hg formed during GSH- or Cys-enhanced HgS dissolution was directly reducible (100% for GSH and 40% for Cys) by stannous chloride, demonstrating its potential role in Hg transformation and bioaccumulation.