Levels of toxic arsenic species in native terrestrial plants from soils polluted by former mining activities
Ten native terrestrial plants from soils polluted by former mining activities (Mónica mine, NW Madrid, Spain), with high total arsenic concentration levels (up to 3500 μg g−1), have been studied to determine the fraction of arsenic present as toxic forms (inorganic and methylated species), which present a higher mobility and therefore the potential risk associated with their reintegration into the environment is high. Roots and aboveground parts were analyzed separately to assess possible transformations from translocation processes. Extractions were carried out with deionized water by microwave-assisted extraction at a temperature of 90 °C and three extraction steps of 7.5 min each. Total extracted arsenic concentrations were determined by inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry, showing extraction percentages from 9 to 39% (calculated as the ratio between total extracted arsenic (Asext) and total arsenic (AsT) concentrations in plants). Speciation studies, performed by high performance liquid chromatography-photo-oxidation-hydride generation-atomic fluorescence spectrometry, showed the main presence of arsenate (As(V)) (up to 350 μg g−1), followed by arsenite (As(III)), in both plant parts. Monomethylarsonic acid (MMA) and trimethylarsine oxide (TMAO) were also found only in some plants. On the other hand, the use of 0.5 mol L−1 acetic acid as an extractant led to higher extraction percentages (33–87%), but lower column recoveries, probably due to the extraction of arsenic compounds different to the toxic free ions studied, which may come from biotransformation mechanisms carried out by plants to reduce arsenic toxicity. However, As(V) concentrations increased up to 800 μg g−1 in acid medium, indicating the probable release of As(V) from organoarsenic compounds and therefore a higher potential risk for the environment.