Mining of mercury deposits located in the California Coast Range has resulted in the release of mercury to the local environment and water supplies. The solubility, transport, and potential bioavailability of mercury are controlled by its chemical speciation, which can be directly determined for samples with total mercury concentrations greater than 100 mg kg-1 (ppm) using X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS). This technique has the additional benefits of being non-destructive to the sample, element-specific, relatively sensitive at low concentrations, and requiring minimal sample preparation. In this study, Hg L(III)-edge extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) spectra were collected for several mercury mine tailings (calcines) in the California Coast Range. Total mercury concentrations of samples analyzed ranged from 230 to 1060 ppm. Speciation data (mercury phases present and relative abundances) were obtained by comparing the spectra from heterogeneous, roasted (calcined) mine tailings samples with a spectral database of mercury minerals and sorbed mercury complexes. Speciation analyses were also conducted on known mixtures of pure mercury minerals in order to assess the quantitative accuracy of the technique. While some calcine samples were found to consist exclusively of mercuric sulfide, others contain additional, more soluble mercury phases, indicating a greater potential for the release of mercury into solution. Also, a correlation was observed between samples from hot-spring mercury deposits, in which chloride levels are elevated, and the presence of mercury-chloride species as detected by the speciation analysis. The speciation results demonstrate the ability of XAS to identify multiple mercury phases in a heterogeneous sample, with a quantitative accuracy of ??25% for the mercury-containing phases considered. Use of this technique, in conjunction with standard microanalytical techniques such as X-ray diffraction and electron probe microanalysis, is beneficial in the prioritization and remediation of mercury-contaminated mine sites. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.