Assessing mercury pollution at a primary ore site with both ancient and industrial mining and smelting activities

Zhao, Bin, O'Connor, David, Zhang, Hao, Jin, Yuanliang, Wang, Yidong, Yang, Xiaodong, Hou, Renjie and Hou, Deyi (2023) Assessing mercury pollution at a primary ore site with both ancient and industrial mining and smelting activities. Environmental Pollution. p. 122413. ISSN 0269-7491

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The Minamata Convention on Mercury has mandated a renewed global effort to tackle Hg pollution. The present study evaluates Hg pollution at a primary Hg production site exploited since the Qin Dynasty (200s BC), with intensive industrial scale production over the past four decades. This single location accounts for over 95% total Hg production in China in recent years. To assess the environmental risk and effectiveness of recently implemented control measures, we collected 90 soil samples, 60 plant tissue samples, 47 sediment samples, and 47 river water samples from the site and its vicinity. A site-specific conceptual site model was established based on the sources, migration transformation pathways of Hg pollutant and its exposure scenarios. The maximum soil Hg concentration reached 10,451 mg·kg-1, posing a high health and ecological risk. Vegetable and crop Hg concentrations outside the site reached 0.23 mg·kg-1 in rice grains and 4.24 mg·kg-1 in green onion. The highest health risk, with a hazard quotient of 130.66, was observed in the Ore Storage Site, which reduced to 17.14 when Hg bioavailability was considered. Risk control measures implemented in recent years included a stormwater collection system and capping of the tailing pond area with clean imported soil. These measures were generally successful; however, Hg in the tailings were found to be contaminating the imported surficial soil due to rainfall saturation and upward migration, suggesting a need for long-term post remedial site monitoring and maintenance. We also found that mining and smelting activities have contaminated a 6 km stretch of a nearby river, with sediment Hg concentrations reaching 2,819 mg·kg-1, and water column concentrations reaching 193.21 ng·L-1. The sediment and water concentrations are highly correlated (R2=0.78), suggesting that, with risk control measures in place, a reservoir of Hg in polluted river sediment is now driving pollution in the water column. This work demonstrates that primary Hg mining has caused widespread and serious soil and water pollution. Risk control measures can reduce human health and ecological risks, but robust monitoring and maintenance are required for remediation to be effective in the long-term.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Mercury, Primary mercury mining, Contaminated soil, Health risk assessment, Risk management
Divisions: Real Estate and Land Management
Depositing User: Dr David O'Connor
Date Deposited: 15 Sep 2023 09:51
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 09:51

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