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Chilean regulations on metal-polluted soils: The need to advance from adapting foreign laws towards developing sovereign legislation

Neaman, Alexander, Valenzuela, Patricio, Tapia-Gatica, Jaime, Selles, Iván, Novoselov, Alexey A., Dovletyarova, Elvira A., Yáñez, Carolina, Krutyakov, Yurii A., Stuckey, Jason W.
Environmental research 2020 v.185 pp. 109429
arsenic, basins, biomarkers, blood, children, copper, databases, earthworms, ecosystems, environmental factors, environmental law, human health, laws and regulations, lead, mining, polluted soils, rocks, soil pollution, soil sampling, toxicity, watersheds, zinc, Chile, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand
Chile as a major international Cu producer faces serious soil contamination issues in mining areas. Currently Chile does not have any specific law governing the maximum permissible concentrations of metals in soils to protect ecosystems and human health. Chile heavily relies on the use of environmental laws of 14 foreign countries; the choice of the country depends on the similarity of its environmental conditions with those in Chile. In this study, we used an online database to compare the similarity of Chilean rocks to those in foreign countries. Likewise, we performed soil sampling and determined the background concentrations of Cu, As, Pb, and Zn in soils of the Aconcagua basin, the largest river basin in the Valparaiso Region of central Chile. The results showed that geochemical patterns in Chile have the greatest resemblance to New Zealand, Mexico, and Italy. The background Cu concentration in the Aconcagua basin (134 mg kg⁻¹) exceeded the legislated limits of New Zealand (100 mg kg⁻¹) and Italy (120 mg kg⁻¹), whereas the background Zn concentration (200 mg kg⁻¹) exceeded the legislated limit of Italy (150 mg kg⁻¹). Due to the elevated natural abundance of Cu and Zn in Chile, international laws should not be applied in Chile for the assessment of soil contamination. In addition, we assessed ecological risk using the results of our previous studies obtained by analyzing native field-contaminated soils of the Valparaiso region. In the Aconcagua basin, Cu posed high risk for plants in 11% of the samples, whereas As posed high risk for earthworms in 48% of the samples. We suggest that future studies are required to search for other organisms that can serve as biomarkers of metal toxicity because our previous studies were limited to plants and earthworms. Importantly, As posed high risk to human health in 25% of the samples in our study. There is a need for future studies to demonstrate empirically an association between soil As and children's blood As in order to establish the national threshold values of soil As to protect human health. We conclude that there is an urgent need in Chile to advance from the current approach of adapting foreign laws to developing Chilean sovereign environmental legislation.