Laboratory dust generation and size-dependent characterization of metal and metalloid-contaminated mine tailings deposits

Patricia Gonzales, Omar Felix, Caitlin Alexander, Eric Lutz, Wendell Ela, A. Eduardo Sáez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The particle size distribution of mine tailings material has a major impact on the atmospheric transport of metal and metalloid contaminants by dust. Implications to human health should be assessed through a holistic size-resolved characterization involving multidisciplinary research, which requires large uniform samples of dust that are difficult to collect using conventional atmospheric sampling instruments. To address this limitation, we designed a laboratory dust generation and fractionation system capable of producing several grams of dust from bulk materials. The equipment was utilized in the characterization of tailings deposits from the arsenic and lead-contaminated Iron King Superfund site in Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona. Results show that metal and metalloid contaminants are more concentrated in particles of <10. μm aerodynamic diameter, which are likely to affect surrounding communities and ecosystems. In addition, we traced the transport of contaminated particles from the tailings to surrounding soils by identifying Pb and Sr isotopic signatures in soil samples. The equipment and methods developed for this assessment ensure uniform samples for further multidisciplinary studies, thus providing a tool for comprehensive representation of emission sources and associated risks of exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-626
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
StatePublished - Sep 15 2014


  • Arsenic
  • Dust generator
  • Lead
  • Mine tailings
  • Respirable dust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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