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J Environ Manage. 2006 Oct;81(2):135-45. Epub 2006 Sep 1.

Environmental and human exposure assessment monitoring of communities near an abandoned mercury mine in the Philippines: a toxic legacy.

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1
National Poison Control and Information Service, College of Medicine, University of the Philippines-Manila, Philippines.

Abstract

Abandoned mines are an important global concern and continue to pose real or potential threats to human safety and health including environmental damage/s. Very few countries had government mine regulation and reclamation policies until the latter part of the century where legal, financial and technical procedures were required for existing mining operations. Major reasons for mine closure may be mainly due to poor economies of the commodity making mining unprofitable, technical difficulties and national security. If the mine is abandoned, more often than not it is the government that shoulders the burden of clean-up, monitoring and remediation. The topic of abandoned mines is complex because of the associated financial and legal liability implications. Abandoned mercury mines have been identified as one of the major concerns because of their significant long-term environmental problems. Primary mercury production is still ongoing in Spain, Kyrgzystan, China, Algeria, Russia and Slovakia while world production declined substantially in the late 1980s. In the Philippines, the mercury mine located southeast of Manila was in operation from 1955 to 1976, before ceasing operation because of the decline in world market price for the commodity. During this time, annual production of mercury was estimated to be about 140,000 kg of mercury yearly. Approximately 2,000,000 t of mine-waste calcines (retorted ore) were produced during mining and roughly 1,000,000 t of these calcines were dumped into nearby Honda Bay to construct a jetty to facilitate mine operations where about 2000 people reside in the nearby three barangays. In October, 1994 the Department of Health received a request from the Provincial Health Office for technical assistance relative to the investigation of increasing complaints of unusual symptoms (e.g. miscarriages, tooth loss, muscle weakness, paralysis, anemia, tremors, etc.) among residents of three barangays. Initial health reports revealed significant elevation of blood mercury levels exceeding the then recommended exposure level of 20ppb in 12 out of the 43 (27.9%) residents examined. The majority of the volunteers were former mine workers. In this study the abnormal findings included gingivitis, mercury lines, gum bleeding and pterydium. The most common neurologic complaints were numbness, weakness, tremors and incoordination. Anemia and elevated liver function tests were also seen in a majority of those examined. The assessment also revealed a probable association between blood mercury level and eosinophilia. The same association was also seen between high mercury levels and the presence of tremors and working in the mercury mine. To date, there are very limited environmental and health studies on the impact of both total and methylmercury that have been undertaken in the Philippines. Thus, this area of study was selected primarily because of its importance as an emerging issue in the country, especially regarding the combined effects of total and methylmercury low-dose and continuous uptake from environmental sources. At present the effects of total mercury exposure combined with MeHg consumption remain an important issue, especially those of low-dose and continuous uptake. Results of the study showed that four (4) species of fish, namely ibis, tabas, lapu-lapu and torsillo, had exceeded the recommended total mercury and methylmercury levels in fish (NV>0.5 microg/gf.w., NV>0.3 microg/gf.w., respectively). Saging and kanuping also exceeded the permissible levels for methylmercury. Total and methylmercury in canned fish, and total mercury in rice, ambient air and drinking water were within the recommended levels, however, additional mercury load from these sources may contribute to the over-all body burden of mercury among residents in the area. Surface water quality at the mining area, Honda Bay and during some monitoring periods at Palawan Bay exceeded total mercury standards (NV>0.002 ng/mL). Soil samples in two sites, namely Tagburos and Honda Bay, exceeded the EPA Region 9 Primary Remediation Goal recommended values for total mercury for residential purposes (NV>23 mg/kg). The hand to mouth activity among infants and children is another significant route for mercury exposure. Statistically significant results were obtained for infants when comparing the results after one year of monitoring for methylmercury levels in hair for both exposed and control sub-groups. Likewise, comparing the initial and final hair methylmercury levels among pregnant women/mothers in the exposed group showed statistically significant (p<0.05) results. Comparing the exposed and control sub-groups' mercury hair levels per sub-group showed statistically significant results among the following: (a) initial and final total mercury hair levels among children, (b) initial and final methylmercury hair levels among children, (c) final total mercury hair levels among pregnant women, (d) initial and final total mercury hair levels among mothers, and (e) initial and final methyl hair levels among mothers.

PMID:
16949727
DOI:
10.1016/j.jenvman.2006.02.013
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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