Uranium mining wastes: the use of the Fish Embryo Acute Toxicity Test (FET) test to evaluate toxicity and risk of environmental discharge
Lourenço, J.; Marques, S.; Carvalho, F.P.; Oliveira, J.; Malta, M.; Santos, M.; Gonçalves, F.; Pereira, R.; Mendo, S.
Science of the Total Environment 605-606: 391-404
ISSN/ISBN: 1879-1026 PMID: 28672228 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.06.125
Active and abandoned uranium mining sites often create environmentally problematic situations, since they cause the contamination of all environmental matrices (air, soil and water) with stable metals and radionuclides. Due to their cytotoxic, genotoxic and teratogenic properties, the exposure to these contaminants may cause several harmful effects in living organisms. The Fish Embryo Acute Toxicity Test (FET) test was employed to evaluate the genotoxic and teratogenic potential of mine liquid effluents and sludge elutriates from a deactivated uranium mine. The aims were: a) to determine the risk of discharge of such wastes in the environment; b) the effectiveness of the chemical treatment applied to the uranium mine water, which is a standard procedure generally applied to liquid effluents from uranium mines and mills, to reduce its toxicological potential; c) the suitability of the FET test for the evaluation the toxicity of such wastes and the added value of including the evaluation of genotoxicity. Results showed that through the FET test it was possible to determine that both elutriates and effluents are genotoxic and also that the mine effluent is teratogenic at low concentrations. Additionally, liquid effluents and sludge elutriates affect other parameters namely, growth and hatching and that water pH alone played an important role in the hatching process. The inclusion of genotoxicity evaluation in the FET test was crucial to prevent the underestimation of the risks posed by some of the tested effluents/elutriates. Finally, it was possible to conclude that care should be taken when using benchmark values calculated for specific stressors to evaluate the risk posed by uranium mining wastes to freshwater ecosystems, due to their chemical complexity.