Mercury-containing dental amalgam is known to be a source of human exposure to mercury. We have explored the use of electron yield Hg LIII X-ray absorption spectroscopy to characterize the chemical nature of dental amalgam surfaces. We find that the method is practical and that it shows extensive mercury depletion in the surface of the aged amalgam with significant differences between old and fresh amalgam surfaces. Whereas the fresh amalgam gives spectra that are typical of metallic mercury, the aged amalgam is predominantly β-mercuric sulfide. The toxicological implications of these results are discussed.
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