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Assessment of mercury pollution sources in beach sand and coastal soil by speciation analysis

Assessment of mercury pollution sources in beach sand and coastal soil by speciation analysis

Environmental Sciences Europe 31(1): 79

ISSN/ISBN: 2190-4707

DOI: 10.1186/s12302-019-0264-3

Background: An essential requisite for controlling and monitoring mercury in the environment is to identify its species in different types of soils and sediments, as this will help not only to establish its mobility in the environment and ecosystem and the degree of its toxicity, but also to establish the source of contamination. The objective of this work was to identify the origin of mercury in beach sands and soil taken from a coastal region with previously high mining and industrial activity by characterizing the mercury species using the technique known as thermal desorption (HgTPD). Results: Apart from quartz, the main mineral species identified in the raw sands and soil were calcite, fluorite and barite. The concentration of mercury ranges from 5 to 23 mu g g(-1), and although it is distributed in different proportions in the function of the size, thermal desorption profiles demonstrated that the mercury species present in the samples do not vary with the mercury concentration and the particle size. By means of HgTPD, mercury oxide (HgO) was identified in the beach sands, whereas mercury sulfide (HgS) was found in the soil sample taken from the vicinity of the beach. Complementary methodologies foster the HgTPD conclusions and verify that mercury is present mostly in insoluble stable (HgS) or low-mobility (HgO) forms in the samples studied. Analyses by ICP-MS after sequential extraction and HPLC separation of mercury species show that inorganic mercury is the predominant form in the samples. Conclusions: The technique HgTPD is a very useful tool to ascertain the origin of mercury in contaminated beach sands and shoreline soils. In the particular area studied in this work, the species identified indicate that previous mining activity was the source of the mercury and rule out the possibility that contamination is derived from coal combustion activities ongoing in the region.

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