The mining and processing of metal-bearing ores has resulted in contamination issues where waste materials from abandoned mines remain in piles of untreated and unconsolidated material, posing the potential for waterborne and airborne transport of toxic elements. This study presents a systematic method of particle size separation, mass distribution, and bulk chemical analysis for mine tailings and adjacent background soil samples from the Rand historic mining district, California, in order to assess particle size distribution and related trends in metal(loid) concentration as a function of particle size. Mine tailings produced through stamp milling and leaching processes were found to have both a narrower and finer particle size distribution than background samples, with significant fractions of particles available in a size range (???250 ??m) that could be incidentally ingested. In both tailings and background samples, the majority of trace metal(loid)s display an inverse relationship between concentration and particle size, resulting in higher proportions of As, Cr, Cu, Pb and Zn in finer-sized fractions which are more susceptible to both water- and wind-borne transport as well as ingestion and/or inhalation. Established regulatory screening levels for such elements may, therefore, significantly underestimate potential exposure risk if relying solely on bulk sample concentrations to guide remediation decisions. Correlations in elemental concentration trends (such as between As and Fe) indicate relationships between elements that may be relevant to their chemical speciation. ?? 2011 Elsevier Ltd.