Arsenic hazards to humans, plants, and animals from gold mining

Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology



Arsenic sources to the biosphere associated with gold mining include waste soil and rocks, residual water from ore concentrations, roasting of some types of gold-containing ores to remove sulfur and sulfur oxides, and bacterially-enhanced leaching. Arsenic concentrations near gold mining operations were elevated in abiotic materials and biota: maximum total arsenic concentrations measured were 560 ug/L in surface waters, 5.16 mg/L in sediment pore waters, 5.6 mg/kg dry weight (DW) in bird liver, 27 mg/kg DW in terrestrial grasses, 50 mg/kg DW in soils, 79 mg/kg DW in aquatic plants, 103 mg/kg DW in bird diets, 225 mg/kg DW in soft parts of bivalve molluscs, 324 mg/L in mine drainage waters, 625 mg/kg DW in aquatic insects, 7700 mg/kg DW in sediments, and 21,000 mg/kg DW in tailings. Single oral doses of arsenicals that were fatal to 50% of tested species ranged from 17 to 48 mg/kg body weight (BW) in birds and from 2.5 to 33 mg/kg BW in mammals. Susceptible species of mammals were adversely affected at chronic doses of 1 to 10 mg As/kg BW, or 50 mg As/kg diet. Sensitive aquatic species were damaged at water concentrations of 19 to 48 ug As/L, 120 mg As/kg diet, or tissue residues (in the case of freshwater fish) >1.3 mg/kg fresh weight. Adverse effects to crops and vegetation were recorded at 3 to 28 mg of water-soluble As/L (equivalent to about 25 to 85 mg total As/kg soil) and at atmospheric concentrations >3.9 ug As/m3. Gold miners had a number of arsenic-associated health problems including excess mortality from cancer of the lung, stomach, and respiratory tract. Miners and schoolchildren in the vicinity of gold mining activities had elevated urine arsenic of 25.7 ug/L (range 2.2-106.0 ug/L). Of the total population at this location, 20% showed elevated urine arsenic concentrations associated with future adverse health effects; arsenic-contaminated drinking water is the probable causative factor of elevated arsenic in urine. Proposed arsenic criteria to protect human health and natural resources are listed and discussed. Many of these proposed criteria do not adequately protect sensitive species.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Arsenic hazards to humans, plants, and animals from gold mining
Series title Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
Volume 180
Year Published 2004
Language English
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description 133-165
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
First page 133
Last page 165
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