Document Detail

500 years of mercury production: global annual inventory by region until 2000 and associated emissions.
MedLine Citation:
PMID:  12663168     Owner:  NLM     Status:  MEDLINE    
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. Presently, the dominant Hg mines are in Almadén in Spain (236 t of Hg produced in 2000), Khaydarkan in Kyrgyzstan (550 t), Algeria (estimated 240 t) and China (ca. 200 t). Mercury 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 Almadén alone), and probably exceed 10000 t historically. Termination 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.
Lars D Hylander; Markus Meili
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Publication Detail:
Type:  Historical Article; Journal Article; Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't    
Journal Detail:
Title:  The Science of the total environment     Volume:  304     ISSN:  0048-9697     ISO Abbreviation:  Sci. Total Environ.     Publication Date:  2003 Mar 
Date Detail:
Created Date:  2003-03-28     Completed Date:  2003-05-13     Revised Date:  2006-11-15    
Medline Journal Info:
Nlm Unique ID:  0330500     Medline TA:  Sci Total Environ     Country:  Netherlands    
Other Details:
Languages:  eng     Pagination:  13-27     Citation Subset:  IM    
Uppsala University, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Department of Limnology, Norbyvägen 20, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden.
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MeSH Terms
Data Collection
Environmental Exposure / history*
Environmental Pollutants / history*
History, 16th Century
History, 17th Century
History, 18th Century
History, 19th Century
History, 20th Century
Mercury / analysis,  economics,  history*
Mining / history
Reg. No./Substance:
0/Environmental Pollutants; 7439-97-6/Mercury

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