Mercury and methylmercury contents in mine-waste calcine, water, and sediment collected from the Palawan Quicksilver Mine, Philippines
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The Palawan Quicksilver mine, Philippines, produced about 2,900 t of mercury during mining of cinnabar ore from 1953 to 1976. More than 2,000,000 t of mine-waste calcines (retorted ore) were produced during mining, much of which were used to construct a jetty in nearby Honda Bay. Since 1995, high Hg contents have been found in several people living near the mine, and 21 of these people were treated for mercury poisoning. Samples of mine-waste calcine contain high total Hg concentrations ranging from 43–660 µg/g, whereas total Hg concentrations in sediment samples collected from a mine pit lake and local stream vary from 3.7–400 µg/g. Mine water flowing through the calcines is acidic, pH 3.1–4.3, and total Hg concentrations ranging from 18–31 µg/l in this water significantly exceed the 1.0-µg/l drinking water standard for Hg recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Total Hg contents are generally lower in water samples collected from surrounding domestic wells, the mine pit lake, Honda Bay, and the nearby stream, varying from 0.008–1.4 µg/l. Methylmercury concentrations in water draining mine calcines range from <0.02–1.4 ng/l, but methylmercury is highest in the pit lake water, ranging from 1.7–3.1 ng/l. Mercury methylation at the Palawan mine is similar to or higher than that found in other mercury mines worldwide. Much of the methylmercury generated in Palawan mine-waste calcines and those in Honda Bay is transferred to water, and then to marine fish and seafood. A food source pathway of Hg to humans is most likely in this coastal, high fish-consuming population.
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