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A continuous emission monitor (CEM) for mercury (Hg) in combustor flue gas streams has been designed and tested for the detection of Hg by optical absorption. A sampling system that allows continuous introduction of stack gas is incorporated into the CEM, for the sequential analysis of elemental and total Hg. A heated pyrolysis tube is used in the system to convert oxidized Hg compounds to elemental Hg for analysis of total Hg; the pyrolysis tube is bypassed to determine the elemental Hg concentration in the gas stream. A key component of the CEM is a laboratory-designed and -assembled echelle spectrometer that provides simultaneous detection of all of the emission lines from a Hg pen lamp, which is used as the light source for the optical absorption measurement. This feature allows for on-line spectroscopic correction for interferent gases such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, typically present in combustion stack gas streams, that also absorb at the Hg detection wavelength (253.65 nm). This article provides a detailed description of the CEM system, the characteristics and performance of the CEM, and the results of field tests performed at the Environmental Protection Agency-Rotary Kiln at Research Triangle Park, NC. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.