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A number of factors affect the transport of dissolved and particulate mercury (Hg) from inoperative Hg mines, including the presence of organic acids in the rooting zone of vegetated mine waste. We examined the role of the two most common organic acids in soils (oxalic and citric acid) on Hg transport from such waste by pumping a mixed organic acid solution (pH 5.7) at 1 mL/min through Hg mine tailings columns. For the two total organic acid concentrations investigated (20 microM and 1 mM), particle-associated Hg was mobilized, with the onset of particulate Hg transport occurring later for the lower organic acid concentration. Chemical analyses of column effluent indicate that 98 wt % of Hg mobilized from the column was particulate. Hg speciation was determined using extended X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy, showing that HgS minerals are dominant in the mobilized particles. Hg adsorbed to colloids is another likely mode of transport due to the abundance of Fe-(oxyhydr)oxides, Fe-sulfides, alunite, and jarosite in the tailings to which Hg(II) adsorbs. Organic acids produced by plants are likely to enhance the transport of colloid-associated Hg from vegetated Hg mine tailings by dissolving cements to enable colloid release.


Aaron J Slowey, Stephen B Johnson, James J Rytuba, Gordon E Brown. Role of organic acids in promoting colloidal transport of mercury from mine tailings. Environmental science & technology. 2005 Oct 15;39(20):7869-74

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PMID: 16295849

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