ABSTRACT: The Agusan River basin of eastern Mindanao, the Philippines, hosts several centres of artisanal gold mining, the most important of which, Diwalwal, is a significant gold producer in global terms. An investigation of the environmental impacts of artisanal mining in the Agusan system, with particular reference to mercury contamination, was initiated in 1995 following reports of several incidents of human Hg poisoning in the province of Davao del Norte. Results show drainage downstream of Diwalwal is characterised by extremely high levels of Hg both in solution (maximum 2906 micrograms/l) and in bottom sediments (> 20 mg/kg). Filtered surface water Hg levels exceed the WHO Drinking Water guideline and the US-EPA Water Quality Criteria for the Protection of Aquatic Life for a downstream distance of more than 14 km, including channel sections utilised for fishing and potable water supply. The Environment Canada sediment quality Hg Toxic Effect Threshold for the Protection of Aquatic Life is exceeded for a downstream distance of 20 km. Hair Hg data indicate that ballmill and CIP plant operators processing Hg contaminated tailings at eastern Mindanao's principal gold beneficiation centre, Apokon, may be subject to enhanced occupational Hg exposure. It appears that the wider population of this area has not been affected.
Science of The Total Environment 04/1999; 228(2-3):95-109. · 3.29 Impact Factor