New technique for quantification of elemental hg in mine wastes and its implications for mercury evasion into the atmosphere

Environmental Science & Technology
By: , and 



Mercury in the environment is of prime concern to both ecosystem and human health. Determination of the molecular-level speciation of Hg in soils and mine wastes is important for understanding its sequestration, mobility, and availability for methylation. Extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) spectroscopy carried out under ambient P-T conditions has been used in a number of past studies to determine Hg speciation in complex mine wastes and associated soils. However, this approach cannot detect elemental (liquid) mercury in Hg-polluted soils and sediments due to the significant structural disorder of liquid Hg at ambient-temperature. A new sample preparation protocol involving slow cooling through the crystallization temperature of Hg(0) (234 K) results in its transformation to crystalline α-Hg(0). The presence and proportion of Hg(0), relative to other crystalline Hg-bearing phases, in samples prepared in this way can be quantified by low-temperature (77 K) EXAFS spectroscopy. Using this approach, we have determined the relative concentrations of liquid Hg(0) in Hg mine wastes from several sites in the California Coast Range and have found that they correlate well with measured fluxes of gaseous Hg released during light and dark exposure of the same samples, with higher evasion ratios from samples containing higher concentrations of liquid Hg(0). Two different linear relationships are observed in plots of the ratio of Hg emission under light and dark conditions vs % Hg(0), corresponding to silica−carbonate- and hot springs-type Hg deposits, with the hot springs-type samples exhibiting higher evasion fluxes than silica−carbonate type samples at similar Hg(0) concentrations. Our findings help explain significant differences in Hg evasion data for different mine sites in the California Coast Range.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title New technique for quantification of elemental hg in mine wastes and its implications for mercury evasion into the atmosphere
Series title Environmental Science & Technology
DOI 10.1021/es1023527
Volume 45
Issue 2
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher American Chemical Society
Contributing office(s) Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
Description 6 p.
First page 412
Last page 417
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