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Atmospheric dust characterisation in the mining district of Cartagena-La Unión, Spain: Air quality and health risks assessment

Blondet, Isalyne, Schreck, Eva, Viers, Jérôme, Casas, Sandra, Jubany, Irene, Bahí, Neus, Zouiten, Cyril, Dufréchou, Grégory, Freydier, Rémi, Galy-Lacaux, Corinne, Martínez-Martínez, Silvia, Faz, Angel, Soriano-Disla, Martin, Acosta, Jose A., Darrozes, José
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.693 pp. 133496
United States Environmental Protection Agency, X-ray diffraction, acceptable risk, agricultural zoning, air, air pollution, air quality, arsenic, atmospheric deposition, breathing, cadmium, carbonates, coasts, dust, energy-dispersive X-ray analysis, environmental impact, gauges, health effects assessments, human health, laws and regulations, lead, mine tailings, mining, neoplasms, particle size, quartz, scanning electron microscopy, sulfates, sulfides, urban areas, zinc, Mediterranean region, Spain
Nowadays, air pollution has a major impact on the environment and human health. Owen gauges allow the sampling of atmospheric depositions in polluted sites for further characterisation. This paper shows the study of the air particles of an old mining zone in Cartagena-La Unión (South-east of Spain) in order to quantify their potential risk on human health. There were 4 strategic sites monitored: the main mining tailing (Avenque), the urban area (La Unión), an agricultural zone (formerly mining) and a site in the Mediterranean coast. Physico-chemical and mineralogical characterisation was applied to atmospheric fallouts. The granulometry revealed a dust particle size around 15 μm, with the coarsest particles in the urban area and the thinnest at the tailing site. XRD analyses showed the presence of quartz, carbonates, sulphides and sulphates. Observations with SEM-EDX confirmed chemical spectra and allowed us to classify the particles into well-crystallised minerals and heterogeneous dusts. Total metal content determination was carried out by ICP-MS analyses and results showed Zn, Pb, As and Cd fluxes (respectively 2549, 1275, 68 and 7 μg·m−2·d−1) exceeding the limit values set by European legislations in the mining area. The fluxes of Zn, Pb and As also exceed these standards in the urban area whereas the coastal zone only exceeds the thresholds in the case of As. Inhalation health risk (defined by US EPA, 2009) was quantified in the sites using total and bioaccessible metal contents of the dusts. Risk calculations using total metal content considering a residential scenario showed acceptable risk for all sites except for the mining tailing which presented non-acceptable cancer and hazard risk mainly due to the total As and Pb contents. When considering the bioaccessible fraction of As and Pb, the risk diminished to acceptable values, demonstrating the overestimation produced when using total metal contents.