PloS one

Quantification of methylated selenium, sulfur, and arsenic in the environment.

PMID 25047128


Biomethylation and volatilization of trace elements may contribute to their redistribution in the environment. However, quantification of volatile, methylated species in the environment is complicated by a lack of straightforward and field-deployable air sampling methods that preserve element speciation. This paper presents a robust and versatile gas trapping method for the simultaneous preconcentration of volatile selenium (Se), sulfur (S), and arsenic (As) species. Using HPLC-HR-ICP-MS and ESI-MS/MS analyses, we demonstrate that volatile Se and S species efficiently transform into specific non-volatile compounds during trapping, which enables the deduction of the original gaseous speciation. With minor adaptations, the presented HPLC-HR-ICP-MS method also allows for the quantification of 13 non-volatile methylated species and oxyanions of Se, S, and As in natural waters. Application of these methods in a peatland indicated that, at the selected sites, fluxes varied between 190-210 ng Se·m(-2)·d(-1), 90-270 ng As·m(-2)·d(-1), and 4-14 µg S·m(-2)·d(-1), and contained at least 70% methylated Se and S species. In the surface water, methylated species were particularly abundant for As (>50% of total As). Our results indicate that methylation plays a significant role in the biogeochemical cycles of these elements.