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Speciation and transformation of Hg was studied in mine wastes collected from abandoned Hg mines at McDermitt, Nevada, and Terlingua, Texas, to evaluate formation of methyl-Hg, which is highly toxic. In these mine wastes, we measured total Hg and methyl-Hg contents, identified various Hg compounds using a pyrolysis technique, and determined rates of Hg methylation and methyl-Hg demethylation using isotopic-tracer methods. Mine wastes contain total Hg contents as high as 14000 ??g/g and methyl-Hg concentrations as high as 88 ng/g. Mine wastes were found to contain variable amounts of cinnabar, metacinnabar, Hg salts, Hg0, and Hg0 and Hg2+ sorbed onto matrix particulates. Samples with Hg0 and matrix-sorbed Hg generally contained significant methyl-Hg contents. Similarly, samples containing Hg0 compounds generally produced significant Hg methylation rates, as much as 26%/day. Samples containing mostly cinnabar showed little or no Hg methylation. Mine wastes with high methyl-Hg contents generally showed low methyl-Hg demethylation, suggesting that Hg methylation was dominant. Methyl-Hg demethylation was by both oxidative and microbial pathways. The correspondence of mine wastes containing Hg0 compounds and measured Hg methylation suggests that Hg0 oxidizes to Hg2+, which is subsequently bioavailable for microbial Hg methylation.
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Mercury methylation in mine wastes collected from abandoned mercury mines in the USA
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XII International Conference on Heavy Metals in the Environment