Occurrence of Tellurium
With an abundance in the Earth's crust comparable to that of platinum,tellurium is one of the rarest stable solid elements in the Earth's crust. Its abundance is about 1 μg/kg.In comparison, even the rarest of the lanthanides have crustal abundances of 500 μg/kg (see Abundance of the chemical elements).
The extreme rarity of tellurium in the Earth's crust is not a reflection of its cosmic abundance, which is in fact greater than that of rubidium, even though rubidium is ten thousand times more abundant in the Earth's crust. The extraordinarily low abundance of tellurium on Earth is rather thought to be due to conditions in the Earth's formation, when the stable form of certain elements, in the absence of oxygen and water, was controlled by the reductive power of free hydrogen. Under this scenario, certain elements such as tellurium which form volatile hydrides were severely depleted during the formation of the Earth's crust, through evaporation of these hydrides. Tellurium and selenium are the heavy elements most depleted in the Earth's crust by this process.
Tellurium is sometimes found in its native (elemental) form, but is more often found as the tellurides of gold (calaverite, krennerite, petzite, sylvanite and others). Tellurium compounds are the most common chemical compounds of gold found in nature (rare non-tellurides such as gold aurostibite and bismuthide are known). Tellurium is also found combined with elements other than gold, in salts of other metals. In contrast to selenium, tellurium is not able to replace sulfur in its minerals. This is due to the large difference in ion radius of sulfur and tellurium. In consequence, many sulfide minerals contain considerable amounts of selenium, but only traces of tellurium.
In the gold rush of 1893, diggers in Kalgoorlie discarded a pyritic material which got in their way as they searched for pure gold. The Kalgoorlie waste was thus used to fill in potholes or as part of sidewalks. Three years passed before it was realized that this waste was calaverite, a telluride of gold that had not been recognized. This led to a second gold rush in 1896 which included mining the streets.