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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2019-1107
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2019-1107
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 13 Mar 2020

Submitted as: research article | 13 Mar 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

4D dispersion of total gaseous mercury derived from a mining source: identification of criteria to assess risks related with high concentrations of atmospheric mercury

José M. Esbrí1, Pablo L. Higueras1, Alba Martínez-Coronado2, and Rocío Naharro1 José M. Esbrí et al.
  • 1Instituto de Geología Aplicada, Castilla-La Mancha University, Almadén (Ciudad Real), 13400, Spain
  • 2Asociación española contra el Cáncer, Ciudad Real, 13002, Spain

Abstract. Mercury is a global pollutant that can be transported long distances after its emission by primary sources. Most of the problems associated with Hg as a toxic element dispersed worldwide arise due to its incorporation into the trophic chain and its conversion into organic forms. However, in the vicinity of anthropogenic sources, the most common problem is the presence of Hg in inorganic forms and in the gaseous state in the atmosphere. Risk assessments related to the presence of gaseous Hg in the atmosphere at these contaminated sites are often based on episodic and incomplete data, which do not properly characterize the Hg cycle in the area of interest or consider spatial or temporal terms. The aim of the work described was to identify criteria to obtain the minimum amount of data with the maximum meaning and representativeness in order to delimitate risk areas, both in a spatial and temporal respect. Data were acquired from September 2014 to August 2015 and included vertical and horizontal Hg measurements. A statistical analysis was carried out and this included the construction of a model of vertical Hg movements that could be used to predict the location and timing of Hg inhalation risk. A monitoring strategy was designed in order to identify the relevant criteria and this involved the measurement of gaseous Hg in a vertical section at low altitude (i.e., where humans are present) and in horizontal transects to characterize appropriately the transport cycle of gaseous Hg in the lower layers of the atmosphere. The measurements were carried out over time in order to obtain information on daily and seasonal variability. The study site selected was Almadenejos (Ciudad Real, Spain), a village polluted with mercury related to decommissioned mining and metallurgical facilities belonging to the Almadén mercury mining district.

The vertical profiles revealed that higher Total Gaseous Mercury concentrations are present at lower altitude during nocturnal hours and at higher altitude at dawn and dusk. Horizontal profiles showed that the background values were close to 6 ng m−3 except in the spring months, when they rose to 13 ng m−3 and increased the area affected by mercury emissions to more than 4 km around the mining and metallurgical sites. On a daily basis the most important process involved in gaseous mercury movements is the mixing layer, which begins in the early morning and finishes at nightfall. Vertical transferences are predominant when this process is active, i.e., in all seasons except winter, while major sources act as constant suppliers of gaseous Hg to the mixing cell, thus producing Hg deposition at dusk. Conversely, horizontal transferences prevail during the hours of darkness and the main factors are major and minor sources, solar radiation, wind speed and topography.

In terms of risk assessment, and based on the model constructed to infer atmospheric Hg concentrations based on micrometeorological parameters, the nights carry greater risk than the days in all seasons (54 % in spring and winter, 72 % in summer) except in autumn, when 99 % of the hours of risk occurred during the day. The main factors involved in the creation of high-risk periods are those related to dilution (or its absence): namely wind speed and solar radiation at null levels. The extent of the area affected by an emission source is independent of its importance in terms of absolute emissions. The affected zone did not extend beyond 100 metres from the location of the source during the daytime period and 200 metres in the night-time. Under the worst micrometeorological conditions, it was predicted that the affected area would cover almost the entire town of Almadenejos, although these risk conditions only represent 11.34 % of the hours in an annual period.

The results of this study highlight the possible importance of the relief in the distribution of gaseous mercury in the proximity of discrete sources. Further studies, including a detailed topographic model of the area, are required in order to make precise estimations of the influence of this parameter, which appears in this study to be less important than the other factors but is still appreciable.

José M. Esbrí et al.

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Short summary
The aim of this work was to identify criteria to obtain the minimum amount of data with the maximum meaning and representativeness in order to delimitate risk areas, both in a spatial and temporal respect. We have constructed a model of vertical mercury movements which could be used to predict the location and timing of mercury inhalation risk. Also we have designed a monitoring strategy to identify the relevant criteria and this involved the measurement of gaseous mercury in a vertical section.
The aim of this work was to identify criteria to obtain the minimum amount of data with the...
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