Macroscopic and microscopic observations of particle-facilitated mercury transport from New Idria and Sulphur Bank mercury mine tailings

Environmental Science and Technology

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DOI: 10.1021/es034636c



Mercury (Hg) release from inoperative Hg mines in the California Coast Range has been documented, but little is known about the release and transport mechanisms. In this study, tailings from Hg mines located in different geologic settings-New Idria (NI), a Si-carbonate Hg deposit, and Sulphur Bank (SB), a hot-spring Hg deposit-were characterized, and particle release from these wastes was studied in column experiments to (1) investigate the mechanisms of Hg release from NI and SB mine wastes, (2) determine the speciation of particle-bound Hg released from the mine wastes, and (3) determine the effect of calcinations on Hg release processes. The physical and chemical properties of tailings and the colloids released from them were determined using chemical analyses, selective chemical extractions, XRD, SEM, TEM, and X-ray absorption spectroscopy techniques. The total Hg concentration in tailings increased with decreasing particle size in NI and SB calcines (roasted ore), but reached a maximum at an intermediate particle size in the SB waste rock (unroasted ore). Hg in the tailings exists predominantly as low-solubility HgS (cinnabar and metacinnabar), with NI calcines having >50% HgS, SB calcines having >89% HgS, and SB waste rock having ???100% HgS. Leaching experiments with a high-ionic-strength solution (0.1 M NaCl) resulted in a rapid but brief release of soluble and particulate Hg. Lowering the ionic strength of the leach solution (0.005 M NaCl) resulted in the release of colloidal Hg from two of the three mine wastes studied (NI calcines and SB waste rock). Colloid-associated Hg accounts for as much as 95% of the Hg released during episodic particle release. Colloids generated from the NI calcines are produced by a breakup and release mechanism and consist of hematite, jarosite/alunite, and Al-Si gel with particle sizes of 10-200 nm. ATEM and XAFS analyses indicate that the majority (???78%) of the mercury is present in the form of HgS. SB calcines also produced HgS colloids. The colloids generated from the SB waste rock were heterogeneous and varied in composition according to the column influent composition. ATEM and XAFS results indicate that Hg is entirely in the HgS form. Data from this study identify colloidal HgS as the dominant transported form of Hg from these mine waste materials.

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Macroscopic and microscopic observations of particle-facilitated mercury transport from New Idria and Sulphur Bank mercury mine tailings
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Environmental Science and Technology
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