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Evaluating freshwater mining sediment toxicity in Tasmania: Achieving strong multiple lines of evidence

Tyler Mehler, W., Gagliardi, Bryant, Keough, Michael J., Pettigrove, Vincent
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.651 pp. 1243-1252
Chironomus, bioassays, copper, freshwater, guidelines, mining, pH, pollutants, principal component analysis, risk, sediments, sulfates, toxicity, Tasmania
Mining-impacted aquatic systems could be at risk from an assortment of pollutants. The present study evaluated toxicity of mining site sediments from western Tasmania by conducting bioassays with two Australian freshwater species (Chironomus tepperi and Austrochiltonia subtenuis). The present study used multiple lines of evidence (LoE) to assess risk to aquatic biota and the potential sources of that risk at these sites using a sediment quality guideline (SQG) comparison approach (i.e. comparing chemical concentrations at the site (in this case metals, sulfate, and acidic pH) to sediment guideline values) as well as a statistical approach (principle component analysis). Five of the nine mining site sediments showed significant toxicity to both species using survival (A. subtenuis and C. tepperi) and emergence (C. tepperi) as endpoints. Each LoE (SQG comparison and PCA analysis) provided a list of possible contaminants of concern for toxic sites, each list differing from one another. Evaluating these LoE collectively resulted in a stronger characterization of causality and reduced the potential contaminants of concern to a select few, including mainly: copper, sulfate, and acidic pH. Although using multiple lines of evidence reduced the number of potential contaminants of concern, the causality results were still not entirely conclusive, thus we also conducted preliminary investigations using toxicity identification evaluations (TIEs). These TIE investigations, showed the overall importance of acidic pH in these sediments, but also show the need for further work to improve the TIE technique for these types of sediment. The present study illustrates the strengths of using multiple LoE in assessing aquatic risk, especially in the assessment of complex sediments such as those in mining areas of Tasmania. The study, perhaps more importantly, also provides the foundation for more focused work to be conducted in the future to better understanding the implications of mining in western Tasmania.