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Extensive mining of large mercury deposits located in the California Coast Range has resulted in mercury contamination of both the local environment and water supplies. The solubility, dispersal, and ultimate fate of mercury are all affected by its chemical speciation, which can be most readily determined in a direct fashion using EXAFS spectroscopy. EXAFS spectra of mine wastes collected from several mercury mines in the California Coast Range with mercury concentrations ranging from 230 to 1060 mg/kg (ppm) have been analyzed using a spectral database of mercury minerals and sorbed mercury complexes. While some calcines have been found to consist almost exclusively of mercuric sulfide, HgS, others contain additional, more soluble mercury phases, indicating a greater potential for the release of mercury into solution. This experimental approach can provide a quantitative measurement of the mercury compounds present and may serve as an indicator of the bioavailability and toxicity levels of mercury mine wastes.
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Utility of EXAFS in characterization and speciation of mercury-bearing mine wastes