Bioaccessible lead in soils, slag, and mine wastes from an abandoned mining district in Brazil
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We determined the amount of bioaccessible lead in samples of contaminated soils and in mining and refining wastes collected in the surroundings of a former smelter in a rural area in south-eastern Brazil. Previous studies showed that some resident children and adults had blood Pb levels above recommended limits, but the contamination route was not established. The incidental ingestion of contaminated soils and dusts is considered to be a major route of lead uptake by humans. Bioavailability of heavy metals like Pb depends on solubility during digestion. We used in vitro tests that simulate human gastrointestinal (GI) media to measure the amount of soluble Pb under such conditions. Pb in soil and solid waste samples ranged from 0.03 to 4.1% and 1.2 to 15%, respectively. On average, 70% of the lead content was soluble in three different simulated gastric solutions (pH 1.5 and 1.7). For the same samples, lead solubility decreased to 2–22% when the pH was raised to pH 7 to approximate conditions found in the small intestine. These results indicate that if soils and dusts of the area are ingested, most of the lead will dissolve in the stomach, and part of it will remain soluble in the duodenum, i.e., would be potentially available for absorption. These findings may explain the high blood Pb levels previously reported.