John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Ecological risk assessment of boreal sediments affected by metal mining: Metal geochemistry, seasonality, and comparison of several risk assessment methods

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The mining industry is a common source of environmental metal emissions, which cause long‐lasting effects in aquatic ecosystems. Metal risk assessment is challenging due to variations in metal distribution, speciation, and bioavailability. Therefore, seasonal effects must be better understood, especially in boreal regions in which seasonal changes are large. We sampled 4 Finnish lakes and sediments affected by mining for metals and geochemical characteristics in autumn and late winter, to evaluate seasonal changes in metal behavior, the importance of seasonality in risk assessment, and the sensitivity and suitability of different risk assessment methods. We compared metal concentrations in sediment, overlying water, and porewater against environmental quality guidelines (EQGs). We also evaluated the toxicity of metal mixtures using simultaneously extracted metals and an acid volatile sulfides (SEM‐AVS) approach together with water quality criteria (US Environmental Protection Agency equilibrium partitioning benchmarks). Finally, site‐specific risks for 3 metals (Cu, Ni, Zn) were assessed using 2 biotic ligand models (BLMs). The metal concentrations in the impacted lakes were elevated. During winter stratification, the hypolimnetic O2 saturation levels were low (<6%) and the pH was acidic (3.5–6.5); however, abundant O2 (>89%) and neutral pH (6.1–7.5) were found after the autumnal water overturn. Guidelines were the most conservative benchmark for showing an increased risk of toxicity in the all of the lakes. The situation remained stable between seasons. On the other hand, SEM‐AVS, equilibrium partition sediment benchmarks (ESBs), and BLMs provided a clearer distinction between lakes and revealed a seasonal variation in risk among some of the lakes, which evidenced a higher risk during late winter. If a sediment risk assessment is based on the situation in the autumn, the overall risk may be underestimated. It is advisable to carry out sampling and risk assessment during periods in which metals are assumed to be the most environmentally harmful. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2016;X:000–000. 2015 SETAC

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