Environmental geochemistry and health

Trace metal content in inhalable particulate matter (PM2.5-10 and PM2.5) collected from historical mine waste deposits using a laboratory-based approach.

PMID 27146864


Mine wastes and tailings are considered hazardous to human health because of their potential to generate large quantities of highly toxic emissions of particulate matter (PM). Human exposure to As and other trace metals in PM may occur via inhalation of airborne particulates or through ingestion of contaminated dust. This study describes a laboratory-based method for extracting PM2.5-10 (coarse) and PM2.5 (fine) particles from As-rich mine waste samples collected from an historical gold mining region in regional, Victoria, Australia. We also report on the trace metal and metalloid content of the coarse and fine fraction, with an emphasis on As as an element of potential concern. Laser diffraction analysis showed that the proportions of coarse and fine particles in the bulk samples ranged between 3.4-26.6 and 0.6-7.6 %, respectively. Arsenic concentrations were greater in the fine fraction (1680-26,100 mg kg(-1)) compared with the coarse fraction (1210-22,000 mg kg(-1)), and Co, Fe, Mn, Ni, Sb and Zn were found to be present in the fine fraction at levels around twice those occurring in the coarse. These results are of particular concern given that fine particles can accumulate in the human respiratory system. Our study demonstrates that mine wastes may be an important source of metal-enriched PM for mining communities.