Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 41, Issue 6, pp 2505–2519 | Cite as

An integrated study of health, environmental and socioeconomic indicators in a mining-impacted community exposed to metal enrichment

  • Pablo M. Moya
  • Guillermo J. Arce
  • Cinthya Leiva
  • Alejandra S. Vega
  • Santiago Gutiérrez
  • Héctor Adaros
  • Luis Muñoz
  • Pablo A. Pastén
  • Sandra CortésEmail author
Original Paper


The occurrence of toxic metals and metalloids associated with mine tailings is a serious public health concern for communities living in mining areas. This work explores the relationship between metal occurrence (e.g., spatial distribution in street dusts), human health indicators (e.g., metals in urine samples, lifestyle and self-reported diseases) and socioeconomic status (SES) using Chañaral city (in northern Chile) as study site, where a copper mine tailing was disposed in the periurban area. This study model may shed light on the development of environmental and health surveillance plans on arid cities where legacy mining is a sustainability challenge. High concentrations of metals were found in street dust, with arsenic and copper concentrations of 24 ± 13 and 607 ± 911 mg/kg, respectively. The arsenic concentration in street dust correlated with distance to the mine tailing (r = − 0.32, p-value = 0.009), suggesting that arsenic is dispersed from this source toward the city. Despite these high environmental concentrations, urinary levels of metals were low, while 90% of the population had concentrations of inorganic arsenic and its metabolites in urine below 33.2 µg/L, copper was detected in few urine samples (< 6%). Our results detected statistically significant differences in environmental exposures across SES, but, surprisingly, there was no significant correlation between urinary levels of metals and SES. Despite this, future assessment and control strategies in follow-up research or surveillance programs should consider environmental and urinary concentrations and SES as indicators of environmental exposure to metals in mining communities.


Mine tailings Chile Metals Street dust Urine Human exposure 



This study was funded by the Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (CONICYT) through Projects CONICYT/FONDAP 15130011 and CONICYT/FONDAP 15110020. The authors acknowledge the Comisión Chilena de Energía Nuclear (CCHEN) for the measurement of metals in biological and environmental samples. The authors appreciate the help of Jheison López and Iván Pinto during the fieldwork phase and from the personnel of the Laboratorio de Calidad del Agua y Geoquímica Ambiental at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Fernanda Carrasco, Constanza Alfaro and Camila Espinoza). The authors also acknowledge support from Pastoral UC and the Vicerrectoría de Investigación through the XV Concurso de Investigación y Creación para Académicos. Finally, we thank several members of the community of Chañaral and its priest Jaime Pizarro who received us generously in their community during the development of the fieldwork phase of this study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Statement of human rights

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, having obtained approval from its Health Science Ethics Committee and the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 416 kb)
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Supplementary material 10 (PDF 424 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pablo M. Moya
    • 1
  • Guillermo J. Arce
    • 1
  • Cinthya Leiva
    • 2
  • Alejandra S. Vega
    • 1
  • Santiago Gutiérrez
    • 2
  • Héctor Adaros
    • 3
  • Luis Muñoz
    • 4
  • Pablo A. Pastén
    • 1
    • 5
  • Sandra Cortés
    • 1
    • 2
    • 6
    Email author
  1. 1.Centro de Desarrollo Urbano Sustentable (CEDEUS)SantiagoChile
  2. 2.Departamento de Salud PúblicaPontificia Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile
  3. 3.Hospital Jerónimo Méndez ArancibiaChañaralChile
  4. 4.Comisión Chilena de Energía NuclearLas CondesChile
  5. 5.Departamento de Ingeniería Hidráulica y AmbientalPontificia Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile
  6. 6.Centro Avanzado de Enfermedades Crónicas (ACCDiS)Independencia, SantiagoChile

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