Mercury Emission and Dispersion Models From Soils Contaminated by Cinnabar Mining and Metallurgy

J Environ Monit. 2011 Dec;13(12):3460-8. doi: 10.1039/c1em10694e. Epub 2011 Oct 31.


The laboratory flux measurement system (LFMS) and dispersion models were used to investigate the kinetics of mercury emission flux (MEF) from contaminated soils. Representative soil samples with respect to total Hg concentration (26-9770 μg g(-1)) surrounding a decommissioned mercury-mining area (Las Cuevas Mine), and a former mercury smelter (Cerco Metalúrgico de Almadenejos), in the Almadén mercury mining district (South Central Spain), were collected. Altogether, 14 samples were analyzed to determine the variation in mercury emission flux (MEF) versus distance from the sources, regulating two major environmental parameters comprising soil temperature and solar radiation. In addition, the fraction of the water-soluble mercury in these samples was determined in order to assess how MEF from soil is related to the mercury in the aqueous soil phase. Measured MEFs ranged from less than 140 to over 10,000 ng m(-2) h(-1), with the highest emissions from contaminated soils adjacent to point sources. A significant decrease of MEF was then observed with increasing distance from these sites. Strong positive effects of both temperature and solar radiation on MEF was observed. Moreover, MEF was found to occur more easily in soils with higher proportions of soluble mercury compared to soils where cinnabar prevails. Based on the calculated Hg emission rates and with the support of geographical information system (GIS) tools and ISC AERMOD software, dispersion models for atmospheric mercury were implemented. In this way, the gaseous mercury plume generated by the soil-originated emissions at different seasons was modeled. Modeling efforts revealed that much higher emissions and larger mercury plumes are generated in dry and warm periods (summer), while the plume is smaller and associated with lower concentrations of atmospheric mercury during colder periods with higher wind activity (fall). Based on the calculated emissions and the model implementation, yearly emissions from the "Cerco Metalúrgico de Almadenejos" decommissioned metallurgical precinct were estimated at 16.4 kg Hg y(-1), with significant differences between seasons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollutants / chemistry
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Mercury / chemistry
  • Mercury Compounds*
  • Metallurgy
  • Mining
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Soil / analysis
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*
  • Soil Pollutants / chemistry
  • Spain
  • Sunlight
  • Temperature


  • Air Pollutants
  • Mercury Compounds
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Mercury
  • cinnabar