What is Mercury Speciation Analysis?

Mercury speciation is an analytical testing process that separates and measures the different forms (species) of mercury that are present in a test sample.

Quicksilver Scientific holds the exclusive license on a patented cold vapor mercury analysis technology that is automated and scalable.  This makes the Quicksilver method of mercury speciation analysis an easy and cost-effective solution for processing large test sample batch sizes.

In a single test, Quicksilver Scientific speciation analysis measures the biologically available forms of mercury (methylmercury and inorganic mercury).   This is why Quicksilver speciation is superior to conventional total mercury analysis.  Rather than simply delivering an undifferentiated lump sum total, Quicksilver speciation of mercury provides useful data on the ratio of methylmercury to inorganic mercury.

In addition to this, the patented Quicksilver mercury measurement process can be expanded to include rare forms of this toxic element (ethylmercury and propylmercury).


Methylmercury (MeHg), also known as monomethylmercury, is the most highly researched form of mercury present in nature.  It is an organic mercury species commonly found in fish and other animal tissues.  Although methylmercury is mobile and easily absorbed, it is difficult for organisms to eliminate. Instead, the methylmercury accumulates in biological tissues.  For example, while digesting its prey, the predator absorbs the methylmercury contained in its victim.  As a result, animals higher on the food chain tend to have more methylmercury in their tissues than those lower on the food chain.  This process of methylmercury exposure is known as bioaccumulation.  Bioaccumulation can result in fish having over 1 million times higher methylmercury concentrations than the water in which they swim.

Inorganic Mercury

Inorganic mercury is the term used to refer to mercuric ion (HgII).  Inorganic mercury is highly toxic but not very mobile.  Inorganic mercury in sediments, soils and food sources does not pass easily into biological tissues.  However, once inside of the tissue, inorganic mercury is very difficult to remove.   Inorganic mercury accumulates in tissues when a more mobile form of mercury such as elemental mercury vapor, methylmercury or ethylmercury enters the tissue and breaks down into inorganic mercury. In biological tissues, most organic forms of mercury will eventually break down into inorganic mercury.


Like methylmercury, ethylmercury is an organic form of mercury.  Ethylmercury can be present in sediments or petroleum hydrocarbons.  Ethylmercury is also used as a component of vaccine preservatives (thimerosal).  Vaccination is the most common exposure route for this organic form of mercury.  Like methylmercury, ethylmercury can move easily into biological tissues.  However, ethylmercury tends to break down into inorganic mercury more rapidly than methylmercury.

Currently, Quicksilver Scientific is the only commercial analytical testing laboratory capable of directly analyzing ethylmercury, methylmercury and inorganic mercury in one simultaneous procedure at environmentally and biologically relevant amounts.

Why Mercury Speciation Analysis?

Through mercury speciation analysis, researchers and physicians gain access to critical data unavailable from competitive low level mercury analysis methods (total mercury analysis).  Understanding the ratio of methylmercury to inorganic mercury facilitates a more complete understanding of toxic effects and risk to the environment and the human body.

Why Mercury Speciation Analysis? (contd)