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Assessment of surface water quality and mercury levels from Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) along Acupan River, Benguet, Philippines

Abstract

Artisanal and small-scale mining activities are most evident among communities surrounding the Acupan River in Itogon Benguet. The mining activities include manual extraction of gold ores, use of improvised ball/rod mills and sluice boxes, and metallurgical processing such as cyanidation, carbon-in-pulp (CIP) and amalgamation. This study evaluates the influence of small-scale mining and the geology/mineralization of the Acupan Au-Ag-Te deposit to the water quality of the Acupan River and to the possible human exposures to Hg within the small-scale mining community. Different water quality parameters were monitored along selected sites along the Acupan River for a year and the results showed that the low average values of dissolve oxygen (DO) (2.54–4.53 mg L−1) and the relatively high average values of pH (8.84–10.10), sulfate (300.00–1133.33 mg L−1), nitrate (11.33–134.67 mg L−1), arsenic (As) (0.227–0.574 mg L−1) and mercury (Hg) (0.004–0.054 mg L−1) have exceeded the acceptable criteria limit of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for Class C waters. The exceeded values are noted to occur in areas where extensive small-scale mining activities are being done and have affected as well the downstream areas. To test possible human contamination in the use of Hg, hair samples from 56 volunteers were analyzed for total Hg (T-Hg) following standard protocols. The T-Hg concentrations in hair samples are mostly inorganic and are determined in various parameters such as sex, geographic location, occupation, age, fish consumption and localization in hair. Though not significantly different, higher Hg values are noted in males (1.280 ± 0.446 ng mg−1) than among females (0.651 ± 0.163 ng mg−1) as well as those with ages 41–50 years (3.130 ± 2.330 ng mg−1) as compared to other age groups. The higher amounts of inorganic Hg in human hairs could be attributed to the discrete yet prevalent use of amalgamation. The findings of this study emphasize the need for better regulations of the small-scale mining activities and for stricter implementation of the total ban on the use of Hg in ore processing to ensure better water quality of Acupan River as well as the health and safety of the communities surrounding the river.

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Data availability

The data used in the manuscript is made available as reference to any intended reviews on the manuscript and on any other related topics.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) for the generously funding the study. Gratitude is also extended to Dr. Mineshi Sakamoto of the National Institute of Minamata Disease in Japan for the Hg analyses of the samples. The authors are also grateful for the comments and suggestions provided by the Editors and Reviewers, which have greatly improved the content and presentation of the paper.

Funding

The research program, from which the manuscript came about, was funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The title of the research program is “Chemical Sensors for Mine Site Monitoring” with Emilyn Q. Espiritu as the recipient of the grant.

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Contributions

EQE is the recipient of the research grant and has participated in fieldwork and in the drafting and review of the manuscript. RJR Claveria participated in the implementation of the research particularly on fieldwork and sampling and also in the drafting and review of the manuscript. He is also the corresponding author for the manuscript. PJCB participated in fieldwork and performed a lot of the laboratory work and in the analyses of samples and also in the drafting and review of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rene Juna R. Claveria.

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The authors certify that they have no affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial interest or non-financial interest in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript. The submission of the manuscript has no underlying conflict of interest among authors, funding agency and other stakeholders of the research project.

Ethics approval

The questionnaire and methodology for this study was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Ateneo de Manila University prior to the start of the research. The main objectives of the study were also discussed carefully with the local government and members of the community in several preparatory orientation sessions prior to sampling. All the participants were given written informed consent after the orientations which provided details of the process as well as the possible outcomes of the study.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. With the identified scope of study (including human hair as samples), the researchers have initiated the required protocol of getting the consent of the community as well as the individual participants for the research project to be implemented in the study area as well as to acquire the needed type of samples. Proper documentation of the protocol has been done.

Consent for publication

Informed consent was obtained from all participants from whom identifying information is included in the manuscript. The authors have also acquired the consent from the funding agency, the community in the study area and other stakeholders to publish the manuscript. Data presented and interpretations made were reviewed and were given approval for inclusion in the manuscript.

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Espiritu, E.Q., Claveria, R.J.R. & Bernadas, P.J.C. Assessment of surface water quality and mercury levels from Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) along Acupan River, Benguet, Philippines. Environ Geochem Health (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10653-021-01137-0

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Keywords

  • Small-scale mining
  • River water quality
  • Human exposures
  • Mercury