DOI:https://doi.org/10.3232/SJSS.2011.V1.N1.06

Characterization of the potential mercury contamination in the Apolobamba gold mining area, Bolivia .

José A. Acosta, Ángel Faz Cano, María Ángeles Muñoz, Ricardo Vera, Silvia Martínez-Martínez, Rocío MIllán, Tania Terán

Abstract

A large amount of Hg is used for gold extraction through the amalgamation process in the Apolobamba gold mining area located in the northwest part of La Paz, Bolivia. This mining operation may produce a very serious impact on the ecosystems, as well as on the health of miners and inhabitants, mainly due to the primitive methods used in the gold recovery. The objective of this work was to characterize the potential contamination of total Hg in soils, sediments, water, and plants in a mining area of Bolivia. Results showed that there was atmospheric deposition of Hg in the study area. Accumulation of this metal in the studied soils and sediments was one of the highest in the world, but Hg in aquatic solution was below the detection limit of the analytical method of the studied lakes and rivers. The highest concentration of Hg was found in the river sediments of the Sunchullí- Viscachani (102 mg kg-1), and in the sediments of Sunchullí and Viscachani lakes (12.3 and 11.7 mg kg-1, respectively). These concentrations may pose a serious problem for aquatic life, related ecosystems and human health. Therefore, there is a need to study Hg availability and speciation in soils and sediments to better understand the cycling of Hg in the area.
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