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Assessment of mercury contamination and human exposure associated with coastal disposal of waste from a cinnabar mining operation, Palawan, Philippines

Abstract

 An integrated geochemical and toxicological assessment of environmental mercury contamination and attendant human exposure in Honda Bay, Palawan was undertaken in 1995 following a nationally reported pollution scare centered on a coastal jetty, Sitio Honda Bay, constructed using approximately 1 million tons of tailings and beneficiation waste from a cinnabar mine. Mercury (Hg) data for marine and fluvial sediments, fish tissues and human hair indicate that the toxicological hazard is considerably lower than initially reported by state environment and health officials. Typical Hg concentrations in surficial Honda Bay sediments were found to lie within the global background range (<60 μg/kg). Downcore profiles provide no evidence of enhanced Hg fluxes coincident with the onset of mining and/or coastal tailings disposal. The mean and median Hg concentrations recorded in tissues of six species of Honda Bay fish are compliant with thresholds established by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) for marketable stocks. Earlier reports of 'Minamata range' Hg concentrations in fish and shellfish from Honda Bay remain unsubstantiated. Geochemical analyses of samples of the Sitio Honda Bay substrate have confirmed the prevalence of solid-phase Hg concentrations to ca. 340 mg/kg. The speciation of Hg is, however, dominated by secondary oxides of low bioavailability. The mean Hg concentration in hair from Sitio Honda Bay residents (4.41 mg/kg) was found to be statistically analogous to that for a neighbouring coastal community unimpacted by the coastal disposal of mine waste. A negligible residential exposure factor is thus inferred for the former. Relatively high hair Hg burdens prevail throughout the coastal Honda Bay population, consistent with significant methyl Hg ingestion through daily fish consumption. The data presented provide no environmental or toxicological justification for immediate remedial action.

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Received: 14 May 1998/Accepted: 1 September 1998

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Williams, T., Weeks, J., Jr., A. et al. Assessment of mercury contamination and human exposure associated with coastal disposal of waste from a cinnabar mining operation, Palawan, Philippines. Environmental Geology 39, 51–60 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1007/s002540050436

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s002540050436

  • Key words Mercury
  • Mining
  • Contamination
  • Philippines