Estimations of historical atmospheric mercury concentrations from mercury refining and present-day soil concentrations of total mercury in Huancavelica, Peru.
Detailed Spanish records of cinnabar mining and mercury production during the colonial period in Huancavelica, Peru were examined to estimate historical health risks to the community from exposure to elemental mercury (Hg) vapor resulting from cinnabar refining operations. Between 1564 and 1810, nearly 17,000 metric tons of Hg were released to the atmosphere in Huancavelica from Hg production. AERMOD was used with estimated emissions and source characteristics to approximate historic atmospheric concentrations of mercury vapor. Modeled 1-hour and long-term concentrations were compared with present-day inhalation reference values for elemental Hg. Estimated 1-hour maximum concentrations for the entire community exceeded present-day occupational inhalation reference values, while some areas closest to the smelters exceeded present-day emergency response guideline levels. Estimated long-term maximum concentrations for the entire community exceeded the EPA Reference Concentration (RfC) by a factor of 30 to 100, with areas closest to the smelters exceeding the RfC by a factor of 300 to 1000. Based on the estimated historical concentrations of Hg vapor in the community, the study also measured the extent of present-day contamination throughout the community through soil sampling and analysis. Total Hg in soils sampled from 20 locations ranged from 1.75 to 698 mg/kg and three adobe brick samples ranging from 47.4 to 284 mg/kg, consistent with other sites of mercury mining and use. The results of the soil sampling indicate that the present-day population of Huancavelica is exposed to levels of mercury from legacy contamination which is currently among the highest worldwide, consequently placing them at potential risk of adverse health outcomes.
Robins, NA; Hagan, N; Halabi, S; Hsu-Kim, H; Gonzales, RDE; Morris, M; Woodall, G; Richter, DD; Heine, P; Zhang, T; Bacon, A; Vandenberg, J
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