Geochemistry of Mercury and Origins of Natural Contamination of the Environment

CIM Bulletin, 1972

I. R. JONASSON and R. W. BOYLE, Geological Survey of Canada, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Ottawa, Canada

Current interest in the distribution of mercury in the natural environment comes from quite different, though not unrelated, sources. Mercury has long been an important metal in many industries and has, therefore, been much sought after by mining interests. The presence of mercury traces in the various media of the natural environment, namely soil, rock, air, water and vegetation, is exploited by geochemists not only to find mercury and polymetallic ore deposits, but also to find most other types of economic metal mineralization. More recently, however, mercury has caught the attention of health authorities and environmental scientists who are becoming increasingly concerned over the hazards of mercury wastes and the danger these present to the environment and to man. It is now apparent that the trace quantities of mercury, considered so important and helpful to exploration geologists, can be concentrated in the biosphere to such levels as to present considerable problems for ecologists. This article summarizes most of the available data on mercury contents in materials of geological interest and presents average normal values for rocks, ores, minerals, soils, sediments, waters and plants. The geoch.emical cycle for mercury in nature is presented and the mechanisms of mercury migration around the cycle are discussed.
Keywords: cinnabar, geochemistry, Geological Survey of Canada, Mercury., tetrahedrite, Deposits, geochemistry, Mercury, Rocks, Soil, Soils, Water, Waters