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Bioaccessibility of Heavy Metals from Mine Wastes and Mining-Affected Soils

A common concern in many historic mining camps, especially those with a substantial population living in and around the mine workings, is potential exposure to heavy metals contained in mine wastes, tailings, and soils affected by the wastes and smelter emissions. The mineralogical hosts for the heavy metals in the various wastes, tailings, and soils play an important role in how readily the heavy metals are taken up by humans via inhalation of dusts or incidental ingestion of soils and dusts; some minerals are more readily dissolved in human body fluids than others, and their contained metals can therefore be considered to be more bioaccessible (soluble and available for absorption by the body) and of a greater potential health concern. Most public-health work in mining districts to date has focused on the health effects of lead, but concerns may also be present for mineral deposits that contain elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, thallium, and other heavy metals.

USGS scientists are characterizing the mineralogy and geochemical reactivity in simulated body fluids of mine wastes and mining-affected soils from a number of mineral deposit types (such as various types of lead-zinc deposits and mercury deposits). This work provides the public-health community with improved predictive capabilities for understanding the potential health concerns that may or may not exist in a particular mining area, depending upon the geologic and mineralogic characteristics of the ores mined and the processes used to extract the ores.

More information:

Further information about the bioaccessibility of heavy metals in mine wastes and mining-affected soils is included in :

The Medical Geochemistry of Dusts, Soil, and Other Earth Materials, in Lollar, B.S.L. (ed.), Treatise on Geochemistry, Volume 9, Environmental Geochemistry (Plumlee and Ziegler, 2003)

Geologic Studies of Mercury by the U.S. Geological Survey: USGS Circular1248


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