New research has raised concerns about the potential for ongoing exposure to wind-borne arsenic as a result of historical mining activity in Bendigo.
The study, led by Federation University PhD candidate Rachael Martin, used dust samples taken from two sites in West Bendigo, as well as locations in Ballarat and Mount Egerton, and concluded there was a need for further “site-specific investigations in environments where humans are potentially exposed to mining-impacted dust”.
“The unique toxicological and carcinogenic effects of arsenic-containing compounds affect humans at even low environmental exposure levels, and the additional risks of an airborne contribution require further investigation,” the study’s authors wrote.
Ms Martin said the samples were taken from legacy mining sites close to residential areas dating back to the 1850s which were still “fully-exposed” and contained particles small enough to be inhaled if the sites were disturbed.
“There’s a bit of a misconception out there that these sites don’t have inhalable particulates because they’re usually thought to be quite course and sandy, but we found PM10 and PM2.5, which are two classes of inhalable particulates and of concern is the fact that these mine waste dumps are very close to residential properties and at the time of sampling they were fully-exposed,” she said.
Ms Martin said while previous research suggested living in areas where the soil was contaminated by arsenic could increase exposure, further research was required to determine any detrimental affects on residents’ health.
“We know that children in particular have the capacity to absorb arsenic from their properties, particularly through dust and soil, so I don’t think there’s been any evidence of any acute effects in the community but I do think that a larger, broad-scale assessment might be required to determine the impact of dust from the sites rather than just looking at the sites themselves,” she said.
“I think we need to find out how the dust’s being mobilised or whether it’s being mobilised in the environment and then into people’s houses or into their backyard soil.”
Ms Martin said the greatest risk of exposure came when the sites were disturbed, so ideally they should be covered.
“Disturbing these sites is probably one of the worst things you can do,” she said.
“Disturbance might be mechanical, with people riding their bikes across them, or it might be through wind that will erode the dust particles and get them airborne, so just minimising disturbance and ensuring that the sites are either covered or capped with clean soil and grass rather than just being completely exposed,” she said.