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Speciation of mercury and mode of transport from placer gold mine tailings

January 1, 2005

Historic placer gold mining in the Clear Creek tributary to the Sacramento River (Redding, CA) has highly impacted the hydrology and ecology of an important salmonid spawning stream. Restoration of the watershed utilized dredge tailings contaminated with mercury (Hg) introduced during gold mining, posing the possibility of persistent Hg release to the surrounding environment, including the San Francisco Bay Delta. Column experiments have been performed to evaluate the extent of Hg transport under chemical conditions potentially similar to those in river restoration projects utilizing dredge tailings such as at Clear Creek. Physicochemical perturbations, in the form of shifts in column influent ionic strength and the presence of a low molecular weight organic acid, were applied to coarse and fine sand placer tailings containing 109-194 and 69-90 ng of Hg/g, respectively. Significant concentrations of mercury, up to 16 ??g/L, leach from these sediments in dissolved and particle-associated forms. Sequential chemical extractions (SCE) of these tailings indicate that elemental Hg initially introduced during gold mining has been transformed to readily soluble species, such as mercury oxides and chlorides (3-4%), intermediately extractable phases that likely include (in)organic sorption complexes and amalgams (75-87%), and fractions of highly insoluble forms such as mercury sulfides (6-20%; e.g., cinnabar and metacinnabar). Extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) spectroscopic analysis of colloids obtained from column effluent identified cinnabar particles as the dominant mobile mercury-bearing phase. The fraction of intermediately extractable Hg phases also likely includes mobile colloids to which Hg is adsorbed. ?? 2005 American Chemical Society.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2005
Title Speciation of mercury and mode of transport from placer gold mine tailings
DOI 10.1021/es049113z
Authors A.J. Slowey, J. J. Rytuba, Gordon E. Brown
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Science & Technology
Series Number
Index ID 70029041
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization