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Keywords:

  • Lead;
  • Deer;
  • Mining;
  • Tailings;
  • Exposure

Abstract

Habitat surrounding the inactive Continental Mine in northern Idaho, USA, supports bear (Ursus arctos, Ursus americanus), moose (Alces alces), elk (Cervus elaphus), woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), and abundant mule (Odocoileus hemionus) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Tailings on the mining site were capped and remediated in 2003 to reduce environmental exposure of surrounding soil and sediments of Blue Joe Creek, downslope of the mine. Before capping, the mean Pb concentration in deer pellets collected on-site was 920 mg/kg of Pb (dry wt). This exposure, if chronic, would be comparable to an exposure that could be lethal to cattle or horses. Surprisingly, the mean pellet Pb concentration of 950 mg/kg in 2004 was as high as it was before remediation, and it was related to a high rate of soil ingestion. Mean soil content of the pellets collected from the capped site in 2004 was 22% dry weight, estimated from the acid-insoluble ash, a marker of soil ingestion. Clumps of sand and bits of rock were observed inside some of the pellets, and Pb concentrations in the pellets were correlated (p < 0.05) with soil content. Although terrestrial risk assessments generally estimate exposure from diets and from incidentally ingested soil, the deer at this site were directly ingesting contaminated soil or mining waste. The mean Pb concentration of this ingested soil was estimated as 6,700 mg/kg and the maximum as 25,000 mg/kg, well above the Pb concentrations measured in the remediated cap. The deer seemed to be ingesting soil or mining waste from one or more small but highly contaminated sources located beyond the remediated cap.