Exposure studies have linked arsenic (As) ingestion with disease in mining-affected populations; however, inhalation of mine waste dust as a pathway for pulmonary toxicity and systemic absorption has received limited attention. A biologically relevant extractant was used to assess the 24-h lung bioaccessibility of As in dust isolated from four distinct types of historical gold mine wastes common to regional Victoria, Australia. Mine waste particles less than 20 µm in size (PM20) were incubated in a simulated lung fluid containing a major surface-active component found in mammalian lungs, dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine. The supernatants were extracted, and their As contents measured after 1, 2, 4, 8 and 24 h. The resultant As solubility profiles show rapid dissolution followed by a more modest increasing trend, with between 75 and 82% of the total 24-h bioaccessible As released within the first 8 h. These profiles are consistent with the solubility profile of scorodite, a secondary As-bearing phase detected by X-ray diffraction in one of the investigated waste materials. Compared with similar studies, the cumulative As concentrations released at the 24-h time point were extremely low (range 297 ± 6–3983 ± 396 µg L−1), representing between 0.020 ± 0.002 and 0.036 ± 0.003% of the total As in the PM20.
Abandoned historical gold mining wastes often exist as geographically extensive, unremediated, and poorly contained deposits that contain elevated levels of As and other potentially toxic elements (PTEs). One of the key variables governing human exposure to PTEs in mine waste is particle size. By applying a size-resolved approach to mine waste characterisation, this study reports on the proportions of mine waste relevant to human exposure and mobility, as well as their corresponding PTE concentrations, in four distinct historical mine wastes from the gold province in Central Victoria, Australia. To the best of our knowledge, such a detailed investigation and comparison of historical mining wastes has not been conducted in this mining-affected region. Mass distribution analysis revealed notable proportions of waste material in the readily ingestible size fraction (aecurrency sign250 A mu m; 36.1-75.6 %) and the dust size fraction (aecurrency sign100 A mu m; 5.9-45.6 %), suggesting a high potential for human exposure and dust mobilisation. Common to all mine waste types were statistically significant inverse trends between particle size and levels of As and Zn. Enrichment of As in the finest investigated size fraction (aecurrency sign53 A mu m) is of particular concern as these particles are highly susceptible to long-distance atmospheric transport. Human populations that reside in the prevailing wind direction from a mine waste deposit may be at risk of As exposure via inhalation and/or ingestion pathways. Enrichment of PTEs in the finer size fractions indicates that human health risk assessments based on bulk contaminant concentrations may underestimate potential exposure intensities.