Received: 4 January 2018 /Accepted: 28 February 2018 /Published online: 19 March 2018
Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018
The lack of management in small-scale mining operations has the potential for negative repercussions, e.g., mine collapses,
compared with well-regulated large-scale mines. Here, we used an in vitro model to investigate heavy metal soil pollution
characteristics and their attendant health risks in an abandoned, small-scale lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn) mine located in southwestern
China that had suffered from collapse. Our results showed the following: (1) Even the mine had been closed for many years, the
soil was still heavily polluted by Pb, cadmium (Cd), and Zn, and there is a risk of secondary pollution. Pb, Zn, and Cd
concentrations in the mining areas were all approximately 22–42 times higher than the background soil levels of Guangxi
Province. (2) Cd had the largest bioaccessibility, and mining areas tend to have soils containing more bioaccessible metals
(78 ± 14%, 27 ± 4%, and 38 ± 12% for Cd, Pb, and Zn in gastric phase and 40 ± 12%, 10 ± 5%, and 19 ± 8% in intestinal phase
correspondingly). (3) Results of a stepwise, multiple regression analysisrevealed that the total soil content of the three metals (Pb,
Zn, and Cd), TOC (total organic carbon), soil composition, and Mn content were the main impact factors for the Pb, Cd, and Zn
soil bioaccessibility in study area (R
= 0.37~0.93). (4) A health risk assessment based on Pb, Cd, and Zn bioaccessibility
indicated that the health risk for people in mine area is not high (HI is 1.07 at most and CR 2.40E−6 at most for children).
Mining and smelting activities are the main sources of trace
metals found in the environment (Pelfrêne et al. 2012). There
are many small-scale mining areas in developing countries
such as China. China has nearly 8000 state-owned mines
and far more privately owned ones, with a current estimate
of approximately 230,000 private, mostly small-scale mines
(Zhuang et al. 2014). Due to their relative lack of safety
management when compared to the well-established stan-
dards of larger-scale mines, accidents (e.g., tailings dam leak-
age), leaching, and collapse are all more common events.
Therefore, it is likely that the mining activities in low-output,
small-scale mines could induce heavier environmental pollu-
tion, resulting in larger pollutant release when compared with
large-scale mines with higher output. Despite this concern, the
current attitude is to ignore or underestimate the environmen-
tal risks posed by small mining areas.
In China, most Pb and Zn ores are small-scale mines. In
addition to Pb and Zn, Cd often appears in Pb-Zn mines be-
cause it has similar chemical properties with Zn (Gutiérrez
et al. 2016). Although Zn is a necessary element for human
health, excessive ingestion can lead to health risks. Similarly,
high Pb concentrations in the blood can have deadly outcomes
(Shi et al. 2011). The effects of Pb differ during development.
For instance, children can absorb more Pb when compared
with adults. Given this, long-term intake of low doses may
also affect the neurological development of children and result
in neurological problems (Appleton et al. 2012). Cd also poses
a variety of health problems, such as kidney and bone damage.
Exposure may also lead to breast cancer in postmenopausal
women (Wang et al. 2017).
Siyang Liu and Shuhan Tian contributed equally to this work.
Responsible editor: Zhihong Xu
* Lingqing Wang
* Tao Liang
Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of
Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese
Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
Environmental Science and Pollution Research (2018) 25:15044–15056
Heavy metal bioaccessibility and health risks in the contaminated soil
of an abandoned, small-scale lead and zinc mine