Mercury flows in large-scale gold production and implications for Hg pollution control

Tom Sizmur


Received January 24, 2017,Revised March 16, 2017, Accepted March 17, 2017, Available online March 30, 2017

Volume 30,2018,Pages 91-99

Large-scale gold production (LSGP) is one of the five convention-related atmospheric mercury (Hg) emission sources in the Minamata Convention on Mercury. However, field experiments on Hg flows of the whole process of LSGP are limited. To identify the atmospheric Hg emission points and understand Hg emission characteristics of LSGP, Hg flows in two gold smelters were studied. Overall atmospheric Hg emissions accounted for 10%–17% of total Hg outputs and the Hg emission factors for all processes were 7.6–9.6 kg/ton. There were three dominant atmospheric Hg emission points in the studied gold smelters, including the exhaust gas of the roasting process, exhaust gas from the environmental fog collection stack and exhaust gas from the converter of the refining process. Atmospheric Hg emissions from the roasting process only accounted for 16%–29% of total emissions and the rest were emitted from the refining process. The overall Hg speciation profile (gaseous elemental Hg/gaseous oxidized Hg/particulate-bound Hg) for LSGP was 34.1/57.1/8.8. The dominant Hg output byproducts included waste acid, sulfuric acid and cyanide leaching residue. Total Hg outputs from these three byproducts were 80% in smelter A and 84% in smelter B. Our study indicated that previous atmospheric Hg emissions from large-scale gold production might have been overestimated. Hg emission control in LSGP is not especially urgent in China compared to other significant emission sources (e.g., cement plants). Instead, LSGP is a potential Hg release source due to the high Hg output proportions to acid and sludge.

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