Soil heavy metal contamination and health risks associated with artisanal gold mining in Tongguan, Shaanxi, China

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2017 Jul;141:17-24. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2017.03.002. Epub 2017 Mar 12.


Soil contamination with heavy metals due to mining activities poses risks to ecological safety and human well-being. Limited studies have investigated heavy metal pollution due to artisanal mining. The present study focused on soil contamination and the health risk in villages in China with historical artisanal mining activities. Heavy metal levels in soils, tailings, cereal and vegetable crops were analyzed and health risk assessed. Additionally, a botany investigation was conducted to identify potential plants for further phytoremediation. The results showed that soils were highly contaminated by residual tailings and previous mining activities. Hg and Cd were the main pollutants in soils. The Hg and Pb concentrations in grains and some vegetables exceeded tolerance limits. Moreover, heavy metal contents in wheat grains were higher than those in maize grains, and leafy vegetables had high concentrations of metals. Ingestion of local grain-based food was the main sources of Hg, Cd, and Pb intake. Local residents had high chronic risks due to the intake of Hg and Pb, while their carcinogenic risk associated with Cd through inhalation was low. Three plants (Erigeron canadensis L., Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koel., and Solanum nigrum L.) were identified as suitable species for phytoremediation.

Keywords: Artisanal gold mining; Contamination; Health risk; Heavy metal; Soil.

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • China
  • Crops, Agricultural / growth & development*
  • Digitaria / growth & development
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Erigeron / growth & development
  • Food Contamination / analysis
  • Food Contamination / prevention & control
  • Gold*
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis*
  • Mining*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Soil / chemistry
  • Soil / standards
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*
  • Solanum / growth & development


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Gold