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Terrestrial ecological risk analysis via dietary exposure at uranium mine sites in the Grand Canyon watershed (Arizona, USA)

November 20, 2020

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently included uranium (U) on a list of mineral commodities that are considered critical to economic and national security. The uses of U for commercial and residential energy production, defense applications, medical device technologies, and energy generation for space vehicles and satellites are known, but the environmental impacts of uranium extraction are not always well quantified. We conducted a screening-level ecological risk analysis based on exposure to mining-related elements via diets and incidental soil ingestion for terrestrial biota to provide context to chemical characterization and exposures at breccia pipe U mines in northern Arizona. Relative risks, calculated as hazard quotients (HQs), were generally low for all biological receptor models. Our models screened for risk to omnivores and insectivores (HQs>1) but not herbivores and carnivores. Uranium was not the driver of ecological risk; arsenic, cadmium, copper, and zinc were of concern for biota consuming ground-dwelling invertebrates. Invertebrate species composition should be considered when applying these models to other mining locations or future sampling at the breccia pipe mine sites. Dietary concentration thresholds (DCTs) were also calculated to understand food concentrations that may lead to ecological risk. The DCTs indicated that critical concentrations were not approached in our model scenarios, as evident in the very low HQs for most models. The DCTs may be used by natural resource and land managers as well as mine operators to screen or monitor for potential risk to terrestrial receptors as mine sites are developed and remediated in the future.

Publication Year 2021
Title Terrestrial ecological risk analysis via dietary exposure at uranium mine sites in the Grand Canyon watershed (Arizona, USA)
DOI 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2020.129049
Authors Jo Ellen Hinck, Danielle M. Cleveland, Bradley E. Sample
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Chemosphere
Index ID 70216950
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Columbia Environmental Research Center