Postprint of: Reichelt-Brushett, AJ, Stone, J, Howe, P, Thomas, B, Clark, M, Male, Y, Nanlohy, A & Butcher, P 2017, 'Geochemistry and mercury contamination in receiving environments of artisanal mining wastes and identified concerns for food safety', Environmental Research, vol. 152, pp. 407-418.
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Artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) using mercury (Hg) amalgamation has been occurring on Buru Island, Indonesia since early 2012, and has caused rapid accumulation of high Hg concentrations in river, estuary and marine sediments. In this study, sediment samples were collected from several sites downstream of the Mount Botak ASGM site, as well as in the vicinity of the more recently established site at Gogrea where no sampling had previously been completed. All sediment samples had total Hg (THg) concentrations exceeding Indonesian sediment quality guidelines and were up to 82 times this limit at one estuary site. The geochemistry of sediments in receiving environments indicates the potential for Hg-methylation to form highly bioavailable Hg species. To assess the current contamination threat from consumption of local seafood, samples of fish, molluscs and crustaceans were collected from the Namlea fish market and analysed for THg concentrations. The majority of edible tissue samples had elevated THg concentrations, which raises concerns for food safety. This study shows that river, estuary and marine ecosystems downstream of ASGM operations on Buru Island are exposed to dangerously high Hg concentrations, which are impacting aquatic food chains, and fisheries resources. Considering the high dietary dependence on marine protein in the associated community and across the Mollucas Province, and the short time period since ASGM operations commenced in this region, the results warrant urgent further investigation, risk mitigation, and community education.