Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Mercury in Nevada
Where to Report a Spill in Nevada
Nevada - Nevada Division of Environmental Protection - Bureau of Corrective Action Spill Reporting Hotline: (888) 331-6337 or (775) 687-9485
Nevada State Agencies
Managing Mercury-containing lamps (Recycling hotline, by county)
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Activities in Nevada
Modern Gold Mining and Mercury
Today, mercury is not added to industrial scale gold mining. It is a by-product of gold mining. Historically, mercury was added to gold mining processes to extract the gold, because mercury serves as an amalgam- causing gold particles to stick to the mercury. Then the mercury and gold would be heated up and the mercury volatilizes into the air. This process is still used by small scale, “artisanal” miners in places like the Amazon, in Mongolia, and in parts of Africa. Unfortunately, it is a serious health risk for those doing it and the practice contributes a lot of mercury pollution to the environment.
In industrial scale mining however, mercury is extracted unintentionally along with the gold. Mercury, like gold, is in the ore that is being mined. The ore then goes through a refining process that in many cases includes heating the ore to high temperatures. This process releases the mercury into the air while the gold, not being volatile, is collected. The amount of mercury that is released in this process depends on the amount of mercury in the ore. Often where thereare very large gold deposits in ore, there are also large mercury deposits, which is the case in Nevada. This is not the case for other US gold mining regions, such as Colorado.
Large gold refining facilities, especially those located in the state of Nevada, have significantly reduced the amount of mercury that is released in to the air by adding controls into their processes that capture the mercury. It is then collected in its liquid, elemental form and sent to mercury recyclers.
Mercury from Nevada goldmines is regulated by the Nevada Mercury Air Emissions Control Program.
Carson River Superfund Site
The Carson River Superfund Site is the only site in Nevada listed on the Superfund National Priorities List (the list of the nation’s worst toxic waste sites). The site includes mercury-contaminated soils, sediments, fish and wildlife over more than a 50 mile length of the Carson River, beginning near Carson City, Nevada. Contamination at the site is a legacy of the Comstock mining era of the late 1800s, when mercury was imported to the area for processing of gold and silver ore mined from the “Comstock Lode.”
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