Applying geochemical signatures of atmospheric dust to distinguish current mine emissions from legacy sources

Chenyin Dong*, Mark Patrick Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Resolving the source of environmental contamination is the critical first step in remediation and exposure prevention. Australia's oldest silver-zinc-lead mine at Broken Hill (>130 years old) has generated a legacy of contamination and is associated with persistent elevated childhood blood lead (Pb) levels. However, the source of environmental Pb remains in dispute: current mine emissions; remobilized mine-legacy lead in soils and dusts; and natural lead from geological weathering of the gossan ore body. Multiple lines of evidence used to resolve this conundrum at Broken Hill include spatial and temporal variations in dust Pb concentrations and bioaccessibility, Pb isotopic compositions, particle morphology and mineralogy. Total dust Pb loading (mean 255 μg/m2/day) and its bioaccessibility (mean 75% of total Pb) is greatest adjacent to the active mining operations. Unweathered galena (PbS) found in contemporary dust deposits contrast markedly to Pb-bearing particles from mine-tailings and weathered gossan samples. Contemporary dust particles were more angular, had higher sulfur content and had little or no iron and manganese. Dust adjacent to the mine has Pb isotopic compositions (208Pb/207Pb: 2.3197; 206Pb/207Pb: 1.0406) that are a close match (99%) to the ore body with values slightly lower (94%) at the edge of the city. The weight of evidence supports the conclusion that contemporary dust Pb contamination in Broken Hill is sourced primarily from current mining activities and not from weathering or legacy sources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-89
Number of pages8
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • Bioaccessibility
  • Pb isotopes
  • Natural weathering
  • Legacy emissions
  • Broken Hill


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