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Methylmercury photodegradation in paddy water: An overlooked process mitigating methylmercury risks.

Water Research 2024 Februrary 18
Photodegradation is critical to reduce the potent neurotoxic methylmercury (MeHg) in water and its subsequent accumulation along food chains. However, this process has been largely ignored in rice paddies, which are hotspots of MeHg production and receive about a quarter of the world's developed freshwater resources. Here, we reported that significant MeHg photodegradation, primarily mediated by hydroxyl radicals, occurs in the overlying water during rice growth. By incorporating field-measured light interception into a rice paddy biogeochemistry model, as well as photodegradation rates obtained from 42 paddy soils stretching ∼3500 km across China, we estimated that photodegradation reduced MeHg concentrations in paddy water and rice by 82 % and 11 %, respectively. Without photodegradation, paddy water could be a significant MeHg source for downstream ecosystems, with an annual export of 178 - 856 kg MeHg to downstream waters in China, the largest rice producer. These findings suggest that photodegradation in paddy water is critical for preventing greater quantities of MeHg entering human food webs.

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