Speciation and absolute bioavailability: risk assessment of arsenic-contaminated sites in a residential suburb in Canberra†

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Jack C. Ng, Sharon M. Kratzmann, Lixia Qi, Michael R. Moore, Hugh Crawley and Barry Chiswell


Watson is a fully developed suburb of some 30 years in Canberra (the capital city of Australia). A plunge dip using arsenical pesticides for tick control was operated there between 1946 and 1960. Chemical investigations revealed that many soil samples obtained from the study area contained levels of arsenic exceeding the current health-based investigation levels of 100 mg kg–1 set by the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia. For the speciation study, nine composite samples of surface and sub-surface soils and a composite sample of rocks were selected. ICP-MS analysis showed that arsenic levels in these samples ranged from 32 to 1597 mg kg–1. Chemical speciation of arsenic showed that the arsenite (trivalent) components were 0.32–56% in the soil and 44.8% in the rock composite samples. Using a rat model, the absolute bioavailability of these contaminated soils relative to As3+ or As5+ ranged from 1.02 to 9.87% and 0.26 to 2.98%, respectively. An attempt was made to develop a suitable leachate test as an index of bioavailability. However, the results indicated that there was no significant correlation between the bioavailability and leachates using neutral pH water or 1 M HCl. Our results indicate that speciation is highly significant for the interpretation of bioavailability and risk assessment data; the bioavailable fractions of arsenic in soils from Watson are small and therefore the health impact upon the environment and humans due to this element is limited.


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