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Toxicity assessment using Lactuca sativa L. bioassay of the metal(loid)s As, Cu, Mn, Pb and Zn in soluble-in-water saturated soil extracts from an abandoned mining site



We used the different soluble-in-water concentrations of As, Cu, Mn, Pb and Zn from contaminated soils in an abandoned mining area (anthropogenic origin) to assess the phytotoxicity of the abandoned site using the results obtained with a Lactuca sativa L. bioassay.

Material and methods

The study has been carried out on potentially polluted samples from the Rodalquilar mining district (southern Spain). The area was sampled according to the different metallurgical treatments for gold extraction used in each one: dynamic cyanidation and heap leaching. The saturation extracts were obtained by filtering each saturated paste with a vacuum-extraction pump, in which measurements of metal(loid) concentrations, pH and electrical conductivity were made. The variables evaluated in the bioassay, defined as toxicity indices ranging from −1 (maximum phytotoxicity) to >0 (hormesis), were seed germination (SG) and root elongation (RE) of lettuce seeds.

Results and discussion

In areas with a low degree of contamination, the most sensitive toxicity index is RE, whereas in highly contaminated areas, both RE and SG are good estimators of soil toxicity. According to these results, samples from the western area showed moderate to low toxicity, which was closely related to water-soluble As concentrations. Samples from the eastern area had a high degree of toxicity in 40% of the soils.


The comparison of the two indices (SG and RE) defined using the L. sativa L. bioassay indicates that, for areas with a low degree of contamination, the most sensitive toxicity index is RE, whereas in highly contaminated areas, both RE and SG are good estimators of soil phytotoxicity. Unsupervised pattern recognition methods such as HCA and PCA enabled us to conclude that the low/moderate phytotoxicity of the soils is related to the extraction process used for the recovery of gold (mainly dynamic cyanidation in tanks located in the eastern area) and to the As and Pb contents.

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This work was supported by the project of excellence P05-RNM-0736 (Consejería de Innovación, Ciencia y Empresa, Junta de Andalucia, Spain.

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Correspondence to Maria Gracia Bagur-González.

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Responsible editor: Kerstin Hund-Rinke

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Bagur-González, M.G., Estepa-Molina, C., Martín-Peinado, F. et al. Toxicity assessment using Lactuca sativa L. bioassay of the metal(loid)s As, Cu, Mn, Pb and Zn in soluble-in-water saturated soil extracts from an abandoned mining site. J Soils Sediments 11, 281–289 (2011).

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