In the present work, the efficiency of distillation process for extracting monomethylmercury (MMHg) from soil samples was studied and optimized using an experimental design methodology. The influence of soil composition on MMHg extraction was evaluated by testing of four soil samples with different geochemical characteristics. Optimization suggested that the acid concentration and the duration of the distillation process were most significant and the most favorable conditions, established as a compromise for the studied soils, were determined to be a 70 min distillation using an 0.2 M acid. Corresponding limits of detection (LOD) and quantification (LOQ) were 0.21 and 0.7 pg absolute, respectively. The optimized methodology was applied with satisfactory results to soil samples and was compared to a reference methodology based on isotopic dilution analysis followed by gas chromatography-inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (IDA-GC-ICP-MS). Using the optimized conditions, recoveries ranged from 82 to 98%, which is an increase of 9–34% relative to the previously used standard operating procedure. Finally, the validated methodology was applied to quantify MMHg in soils collected from different sites impacted by coal fired power plants in the north-central zone of Chile, measuring MMHg concentrations ranging from 0.091 to 2.8 ng g−1. These data are to the best of our knowledge the first MMHg measurements reported for Chile.
- Soil analysis