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Geo-Spatial Characterization of Soil Mercury and Arsenic at a High-Altitude Bolivian Gold Mine


Soil mercury concentrations at a typical small-scale mine site in the Bolivian Andes were elevated (28–737 mg/kg or ppm) in localized areas where mercury amalgams were either formed or vaporized to release gold, but was not detectable beyond approximately 10 m from its sources. Arsenic was measurable, exceeding known background levels throughout the mine site (77–137,022 ppm), and was also measurable through the local village of Ingenio (36–1803 ppm). Although arsenic levels were high at all surveyed locations, its spatial pattern followed mercury, being highest where mercury was high.

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This study was funded by the CUNY Collaborative Incentive Research Grant Program (Grant #2026, Round 20) and was made possible by Guido Condarco from Fundación Plagbol, La Paz Bolivia, who established all local connections and transportation.

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Correspondence to Glen D. Johnson.

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Johnson, G.D., Pavilonis, B., Caravanos, J. et al. Geo-Spatial Characterization of Soil Mercury and Arsenic at a High-Altitude Bolivian Gold Mine. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 100, 259–264 (2018).

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  • Artisanal and small-scale gold mining
  • Soil metal contamination
  • Mercury
  • Arsenic