Researcher awarded grant for two-year mercury project

4/12/2007 7:00:00 AM

A University of Nevada, Reno researcher has been awarded a $250,000 contract to conduct a two-year research project to characterize mercury emissions to the atmosphere from areas of mining waste, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) has announced.

The project will be conducted by Mae Gustin, associate natural resources and environmental sciences professor in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources. Gustin will partner with researcher Frank Marsik of the University of Michigan Air Quality Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"Mercury emissions from mine waste rock, heap leach and tailings areas have been the subject of much speculation and concern over the past few years," said Leo Drozdoff, administrator of NDEP.  "We believe this research will provide sound scientific data to help answer many of the questions surrounding this issue."

"This project will allow us to begin to understand the significance of fugitive mercury emissions from mining disturbed areas relative to those occurring from anthropogenic point sources and natural sources in the state," Gustin said. "In addition, we will develop a dataset of atmospheric mercury concentrations for mining disturbed areas."

The research will:

Determine mercury emissions from active and reclaimed waste rock, heap leach and tailings facilities from two different mining operations in Nevada;

Develop data that will provide a framework for comparing emissions from mining disturbed areas to undisturbed naturally mercury enriched areas in the state;

Be conducted in a manner that ensures statistically valid sampling, and a scientifically sound basis for comparison of emissions from undisturbed and disturbed areas;

Be designed to take into account daily, seasonal, geologic and weather-related variations that might affect mercury emissions rates.

Colleen Cripps, deputy administrator for NDEP in charge of air programs, noted that NDEP is already involved with the University in two other research initiatives relating to mercury emissions.  In March 2006, the University and NDEP received a $364,000 National EPA Air Toxics grant for the development of an economical, easily deployable sampling system to detect mercury in the air.  

Such a system could be widely deployed in the remote areas of rural Nevada. In September, NDEP also partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide partial funding for two Mercury Deposition Network (MDN) sites in rural Nevada that were in danger of closing due to lack of funding.  

In addition, a third site is now located on the University's agricultural experiment station farm on east McCarran Blvd. near Mill St. as part of the Air Toxics grant.  The MDN sites are part of a national network of sites that provide a consistent survey of mercury deposition in precipitation, with the goals of identifying long-term pattern changes in deposition rates over time and space; providing high-quality data for use in estimating deposition rates locally and between sites, and providing sound scientific data to assist in the development of future mercury policy and modeling efforts.

More information on mercury in Nevada can be obtained by visiting NDEP's website.


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