Chemistry and Physics Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures


Physicochemical Characterization of Mine Tailing Dusts in the US Southwest

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American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting / San Francisco, CA

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Census data reveal that the Southwest is the fastest growing region of the USA, while NOAA GFDL coupled- model results suggest that precipitation is expected to decline in the same region over the coming decades. Besides the obvious impact on water resources, the drier conditions will most likely also result in increased atmospheric dust loads that could impact the health of a rapidly increasing population. This year the US EPA began site assessment and remediation at two mine tailings piles in Arizona contaminated with arsenic, lead, chromium and cadmium. The first is located in the twin towns of Hayden and Winkleman, and the second at the Iron King mine near Humbolt. At a concentration of approximately 0.1 microgram per cubic meter, the level of arsenic in PM10 collected at Hayden/Winkelman sometimes exceeds the Arizona ambient hazardous air pollutant standard (HAPS) by several orders of magnitude. Lead, cadmium and chromium are also sometimes orders of magnitude higher than the HAPS. A top priority is to determine the physicochemical speciation of wind-blown dust as a function of particle diameter because this information can a) help with source apportionment of airborne pollutants (e.g., smelter emissions vs. tailings dust), and b) help to assess the potential health impacts of contaminated dust, since deposition efficiency in human lungs is a strong function of particle diameter. We will present the chemical and physical characteristics of mine tailings dust collected with 10-stage multiple orifice uniform deposit impactors (MOUDI) located at Hayden/Winkleman and Iron King. We will also present scanning mobility particle spectrometer (SMPS) data obtained from the same sites. The MOUDI yields particle composition by size fraction (0.056-18 micrometer aerodynamic diameter) while the SMPS yields particle number by size fraction (0.0025 to 1.0 micrometer diameter). Size selective characteristics such as these have never been previously reported for mine tailings dust, to our knowledge.

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