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Metals in agricultural produce associated with acid-mine drainage in Mount Morgan (Queensland, Australia)

journal contribution
posted on 13.09.2018, 00:00 by Victoria Vicente-Beckett, GJT McCauley, Leo Duivenvoorden
Acid-mine drainage (AMD) into the Dee River from the historic gold and copper mine in Mount Morgan, Queensland (Australia) has been of concern to farmers in the area since 1925. This study sought to determine the levels of AMD-related metals and sulfur in agricultural produce grown near the mine-impacted Dee River, compare these with similar produce grown in reference fields (which had no known AMD influence), and assess any potential health risk using relevant Australian or US guidelines. Analyses of lucerne (Medicago sativa; also known as alfalfa) from five Dee fields showed the following average concentrations (mg/kg dry basis): Cd < 1, Cu 11, Fe 106, Mn 52, Pb < 5, Zn 25 and S 3934; similar levels were found in lucerne hay (used as cattle feed) from two Dee fields. All lucerne and lucerne hay data were generally comparable with levels found in the lucerne reference fields, suggesting no AMD influence; the levels were within the US National Research Council (US NRC) guidelines for maximum tolerable cattle dietary intake. Pasture grass (also cattle feed) from two fields in the Dee River floodplains gave mean concentrations (mg/kg dry) of Cd 0.14, Cu 12, Fe 313, Mn 111, Pb 1.4, Zn 86 and S 2450. All metal levels from the Dee and from reference sites were below the US NRC guidelines for maximum tolerable cattle dietary intake; however, the average Cd, Cu and Fe levels in Dee samples were significantly greater than the corresponding levels in the pasture grass reference sites, suggesting AMD influence in the Dee samples. The average levels in the edible portions of mandarin oranges (Citrus reticulata) from Dee sites (mg/kg wet weight) were Cd 0.011, Cu 0.59, Fe 2.2, Mn 0.56, Pb 0.18, S 91 and Zn 0.96. Cd and Zn were less than or close to, average Fe and Mn levels were at most twice, Cd 1.8 or 6.5 times, and Pb 8.5 or 72 times the maximum levels in raw oranges reported in the US total diet study (TDS) or the Australian TDS, respectively. Average Cd, Fe, Mn, Pb and Zn levels in the citrus reference samples were found to exceed the maximum reported in one or both TDS surveys. Cu, Fe, Mn, Pb and Zn plant-soil transfer factor (TF) values were < 1 for all agricultural samples from both Dee and reference sites, suggesting relatively poor transfer of these metals from soil to plant. In the case of Cd, TF values for Dee pasture grass and citrus fruit samples were 0.14 and 0.73, respectively; lucerne and lucerne hay from both Dee and reference sites gave TF = 10, suggesting some potential risk to cattle, although this conclusion is tentative because Cd levels were close to or less than the detection limit. TF values for S in lucerne, lucerne hay, pasture grass and mandarin oranges from Dee sites were 18, 14, 3 and 3.6, respectively, indicating that S in soil was readily available to plant or fruit. Sulfur in pasture grass and citrus fruit (TF = 11 for both) was apparently more bioavailable at the reference sites than at the Dee sites (TF = 3.0 for pasture grass; TF = 3.6 for citrus fruit).


Category 3 - Industry and Other Research Income






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Marcel Dekker Inc.



Peer Reviewed


Open Access


Era Eligible



Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part A