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A comparison of factors affecting the small-scale distribution of mercury from artisanal small-scale gold mining in a Zimbabwean stream system


A comparison of factors affecting the small-scale distribution of mercury from artisanal small-scale gold mining in a Zimbabwean stream system



Science of the Total Environment 647: 400-410



ISSN/ISBN: 0048-9697

PMID: 30086492

DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.07.418

Artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) operations use mercury liberally in the gold extraction process and account for approximately one quarter of the anthropogenic mercury consumption worldwide. ASGM activities are concentrated in many impoverished and poorly regulated countries such as Zimbabwe, resulting in a number of negative impacts to health and the environment. To examine levels of mercury contamination in one such geographic locality, sediment and tailing samples were collected in a heavily mined watershed in southern Zimbabwe from May-June 2015. Samples were collected from multiple points within the stream system, as well as from around six stamp mills and a single industrial mine in the watershed. GPS point location data were taken for mining operations and sampling sites to examine the spatial patterns of mercury concentration. Data were first analyzed using linear regression and development of a MARS model, followed by application of an ANCOVA model to assess the relationship among mercury concentrations and percent organic material, distance downstream, and distance from potential contamination source. Mercury concentrations within the study area ranged from 6 to 1541 μg/kg dw (mean 142 μg/kg dw). Analyses of mercury concentrations indicated a positive relationship with percent organic material but a negative relationship with distance downstream and distance from potential contamination source. Results from this study help elucidate the relationship between gold production and the spatial scale of mercury contamination in aquatic ecosystems in Africa. These data may lead to a better understanding of the relationship between mercury use and community health, which may aid both the local and global communities in regulating mercury contamination of the environment.

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