Authors: Maseki J, Annegarn HJ , Spiers G.

Source: The Journal Of The Southern African Institute Of Mining And Metallurgy. July 2017. Vol 117; Pg 663-669


Synopsis:  Severe episodes of windblown dust from mine tailings storage facilities (TSFs) are a common phenomenon on the Witwatersrand, especially during the spring windy season. For communities around TSFs, such events pose health and environmental challenges. This paper reports on health risk assessment using US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) risk assessment methods for heavy metal elements in windblown dust from TSFs on the central and east Witwatersrand. Samples of surface material from these TSFs were analysed for heavy metal content using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). From a range of 30 heavy metals analysed, only As, Cd, Cr, Pb, and U were enriched by a factor of two or more above the average crustal composition and at concentrations that could be of possible health concern—elements present in the range of a few parts per billion (ppb) or lower were ignored. As, Cd, Cr, Pb and U were selected for a comprehensive risk assessment from exposure through airborne routes, mainly considering inhalation and ingestion. Ambient exposures were based on a worst-case measured episode of 540 μg m-3 (24-hour average), which was projected over each day of an annual exposure for the hours for which the wind speed was above the threshold for dust generation. US EPA risk assessment methods were used to determine the inhalation and ingestion hazard quotients and hazard indices for adults and children. The sum of the hazard indices was assessed to be below the non-cancer benchmark (hazard indices 1.0) considered to be acceptable for a lifetime exposure. The total risk for both exposures (inhalation and the ingestion) was within the range of 1 per 1 000 000 to 100 per 1 000 000— taken as ‘acceptable risk’ by the US EPA for adults and children. These results represent the first quantitative health risk assessment of the hazard posed by heavy metals in windblown mine tailings dust on the Witwatersrand goldfield.Keywords: mine tailings, dust, airborne particles, health risk, inhalation, ingestion heavy metals, arsenic, cadmium, chromium.