Since pre-industrial times, anthropogenic emissions of Hg have at least doubled global atmospheric Hg deposition rates.In order to minimize environmental and human health effects, efforts have been made to reduce Hg emissions from industries and power plants, while less attention has been paid to Hg mining.This paper is a compilation of available data on primary Hg production and associated emissions with regional and annual resolution since colonial times.Globally, approximately one million tons of metallic Hg has been extracted from cinnabar and other ores during the past five centuries, half already before 1925.Roughly half has been used for mining of gold and silver, but the annual Hg production peaked during a short period of recent industrial uses.Comparison with total historic Hg deposition from global anthropogenic emissions (0.1–0.2 Mtons) suggests that only a few percent of all mined Hg have escaped to the atmosphere thus far.While production of primary Hg has changed dramatically over time and among mines, the global production has always been dominant in the region of the mercuriferous belt between
the western Mediterranean and central Asia, but appears to be shifting to the east.Roughly half of the registered Hg has been extracted in Europe, where Spanish mines alone have contributed one third of the world’s mined Hg. Approximately one fourth has been mined in the Americas, and most of the remaining registered Hg in Asia. However, the Asian figures may be largely underestimated.Pr esently, the dominant Hg mines are in Almade´n in Spain (236 t of Hg produced in 2000), Khaydarkan in Kyrgyzstan (550 t), Algeria (estimated 240 t) and China (ca. 200 t).Mer cury by-production from mining of other metals (e.g. copper, zinc, gold, silver) in 2000 includes 48 t from Peru, 45 t from Finland and at least 15 t from the USA.Since 1970, the recorded production of primary Hg has been reduced by almost an order of magnitude to approximately 2000 t in the year 2000.Mining is thus still of similar magnitude as all current anthropogenic Hg emissions to the atmosphere, and mined Hg may account for more than one third of these emissions.Also before use, mercury is emitted from Hg mines locally during the mining and refining processes and from mining waste.Global direct emissions to the atmosphere amount to 10–30 t per year currently (up to 10 at Almade´n alone), and probably exceed 10 000 t historically.T ermination of Hg mining will reduce associated local emissions to the atmosphere and biosphere.Since several economically viable Hg-free alternatives exist for practically all applications of Hg, the production and use of Hg can be further reduced and all primary production of Hg other than by-production terminated.
2003. Vol. 304, no 1-3, 13-27 p.
Mercury; Primary production; History; Mining; Emission; Deposition; Mercury-free technology