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Characterisation of artisanal mine waste on Buru Island, Indonesia and toxicity to the brittle star Amphipholis squamata

Reichelt-Brushett, Amanda J., Thomas, Bernard, Howe, Pelli L., Male, Yusthinus, Clark, Malcolm W.
Chemosphere 2017 v.189 pp. 171-179
Amphipholis squamata, carbon, ecotoxicology, gold, lethal concentration 50, marine ecosystems, median effective concentration, mercury, methylation, methylmercury compounds, mine tailings, mining, mortality, ponds, sublethal effects, traditional technology, waterways, Indonesia
Artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) using mercury (Hg) amalgamation commenced on Buru Island, Indonesia, in 2012, but was halted in 2015 due to concerns of widespread Hg contamination. Much of the Hg used in the mining process is lost to trommel waste which is disposed of in settlement ponds that drain into adjacent waterways and into Kayeli Bay. Several thousand unmanaged trommel sites and associated tailing ponds exist on Buru Island. This study shows that waste from the Marloso trommel at the Gogrea site contained 203 mg/kg total Hg (THg), with a negligible proportion present as bioavailable methyl Hg (MeHg) and a low total organic carbon content. There are currently very few tools available for ecotoxicological risk assessment of mine tailings for tropical marine ecosystems, and we support the development of Tailings Toxicity Tests (TTTs) and describe laboratory toxicity test methods using the cosmopolitan benthic echinoderm Amphipholis squamata. Undiluted trommel waste caused 100% mortality of A. squamata within 48 h, and a 96-h LC50 of 6.7% w/w trommel waste (4 mg/kg THg) was estimated. Sub-lethal effects on the water vascular system of the brittle star were assessed by quantification of the Ability to Right Itself (ARI), and a 48-h EC50 of 7.3% w/w trommel waste (14.4 mg/kg THg) was estimated. The results show that trommel waste produced on Buru Island is highly contaminated with THg and is acutely toxic, raising serious concern for receiving ecosystems where Hg methylation to more toxic and bioavailable forms is likely.