Molecular speciation controls arsenic and lead bioaccessibility in fugitive dusts from sulfidic mine tailings

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Communities nearby mine wastes in arid and semi-arid regions are potentially exposed to high concentrations of toxic metal(loid)s from fugitive dusts deriving from impoundments. To assess the relation between potentially lofted particles and human health risk, we studied the relationship between pharmacokinetic bioaccessibility and metal(loid) molecular speciation for mine tailings dust particulate matter (PM), with elevated levels of arsenic and lead (up to 59 and 34 mmol kg−1, respectively), by coupling in vitro bioassay (IVBA) with X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS). Mine tailing efflorescent salts (PMES) and PM from the surface crust (0-1 cm, PMSC) and near surface (0-25 cm) were isolated to <10 μm and <150 μm effective spherical diameter (PM10 and PM150) and reacted with synthetic gastric and lung fluid for 30 s to 100 h to investigate toxic metal(loid) release kinetics. Bioaccessible (BAc) fractions of arsenic and lead were about 10 and 100 times greater in gastric than in lung fluid simulant, respectively, and 10-100% of the maximum gastric BAc from PM10 and PM150 occurred within 30 s, with parabolic dissolution of fine, highly-reactive particles followed by slower release from less soluble sources. Evaporite salts were almost completely solubilized in gastric-fluid simulants. Arsenate within jarosite and sorbed to ferrihydrite, and lead from anglesite, were identified by XAS as the principal contaminant sources in the near surface tailings. In the synthetic lung fluid, arsenic was released continuously to 100 h, suggesting that residence time in vivo must be considered for risk determination. Analysis of pre- and post-IVBA PM indicated the release of arsenic in lung fluid was principally from arsenic-substituted jarosite, whereas in synthetic gastric fluid arsenic complexed on ferrihydrite surfaces was preferentially released and subsequently repartitioned to jarosite-like coordination at extended exposures. Lead dissolved at 30 s was subsequently repartitioned back to the solid phase as pyromorphite in phosphate rich lung fluid. The bioaccessibility of lead in surface tailings PM was limited due to robust sequestration in plumbojarosite. Kinetic release of toxic elements in both synthetic biofluids indicated that a single IVBA interval may not adequately describe release dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-303
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Science: Processes and Impacts
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 3 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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