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Mercury methylation in mine wastes collected from abandoned mercury mines in the USA

January 1, 2003

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.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2003
Title Mercury methylation in mine wastes collected from abandoned mercury mines in the USA
Authors J. E. Gray, M.E. Hines, H. Biester, B.K. Lasorsa
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 70026023
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization