Assessment of the geoavailability of trace elements from selected zinc minerals

Open-File Report 2013-1309

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This assessment focused on five zinc-bearing minerals. The minerals were subjected to a number of analyses including quantitative X-ray diffraction, optical microscopy, leaching tests, and bioaccessibility and toxicity studies. Like a previous comprehensive assessment of five copper-bearing minerals, the purpose of this assessment was to obtain structural and chemical information and to characterize the reactivity of each mineral to various simulated environmental and biological conditions. As in the copper minerals study, analyses were conducted consistent with widely accepted methods. Unless otherwise noted, analytical methods used for this study were identical to those described in the investigation of copper-bearing minerals.

Two sphalerite specimens were included in the zinc-minerals set. One sphalerite was recovered from a mine in Balmat, New York; the second came from a mine in Creede, Colorado. The location and conditions of origin are significant because, as analyses confirmed, the two sphalerite specimens are quite different. For example, data acquired from a simulated gastric fluid (SGF) study indicate that the hydrothermally formed Creede sphalerite contains orders of magnitude higher arsenic, cadmium, manganese, and lead than the much older metamorphic Balmat sphalerite. The SGF and other experimental results contained in this report suggest that crystallizing conditions such as temperature, pressure, fluidization, or alteration processes significantly affect mineral properties—properties that, in turn, influence reactivity, solubility, and toxicity.

The three remaining minerals analyzed for this report—smithsonite, hemimorphite, and hydrozincite—are all secondary minerals or alteration products of zinc-ore deposits. In addition, all share physical characteristics such as tenacity, density, streak, and cleavage. Similarities end there. The chemical composition, unit-cell parameters, acid-neutralizing potential, and other observable and quantifiable properties indicate very different minerals. Only one of each of these minerals was studied. Had this assessment included multiples of these minerals, geochemical and mineralogical distinctions would have emerged, similar to the results for the two sphalerite specimens.

Study Area

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Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Assessment of the geoavailability of trace elements from selected zinc minerals
Series title:
Open-File Report
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Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center
viii, 78 p.
Mexico;United States
Arizona;Chihuahua;Colorado;New York
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