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Trace elements in berries collected near upgraders and open pit mines in the Athabasca Bituminous Sands Region (ABSR): Distinguishing atmospheric dust deposition from plant uptake

Stachiw, Samantha, Bicalho, Beatriz, Grant-Weaver, Iain, Noernberg, Tommy, Shotyk, William
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.670 pp. 849-864
Sphagnum, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, aluminum, barium, bitumen, blueberries, cadmium, chromium, copper, cranberries, dust, emissions, foodways, fruits, lead, manganese, mining, molybdenum, mosses and liverworts, nickel, oil sands, risk, rubidium, scanning electron microscopy, soil, strontium, toxicity, washing, zinc, Alberta
There are ongoing concerns regarding environmental emissions of trace elements (TEs) from bitumen mining and upgrading in the Athabasca Bituminous Sands Region (ABSR). Depending on their physical and chemical forms, elevated concentrations of potentially toxic TEs in berries could pose a health risk to local indigenous communities because native fruits are an important part of their traditional diet. The objective of this study was to distinguish between aerial deposition of TEs versus plant uptake, in cranberries, lingonberries, and blueberries growing in the ABSR. The concentrations of TEs were determined using ICP-MS in the metal-free, ultraclean SWAMP lab at the University of Alberta. The spatial variation in abundance of conservative, lithophile elements such as Y in berries resembles the published map of dust deposition rates obtained using Sphagnum moss. The presence of dust particles on the surface of the berries near open pit mines and upgraders was confirmed using SEM. Elements which show strong, positive correlation with Y include Al, Cr, Pb, U, and V; these are supplied mainly by dust. Elements which are largely independent of Y concentrations include Ba, Cd, Cu, Mn, Mo, Ni, Rb, Sr, and Zn; these are obtained primarily by plant uptake from soil. The concentrations of elements associated with dust were considerably reduced after washing with water, but the elements independent of dust inputs were unaffected. Elements which are supplied almost exclusively by dust (e.g. Y) are more abundant in berries from the ABS region (2 to 24 times), compared to berries from remote locations.