Characterization of Inhalation Exposure to Gaseous Elemental Mercury During Artisanal Gold

While occupational inhalation exposure to gaseous elemental mercury (GEM) has decreased in many workplaces as mercury is being removed from many products and processes, it continues to be a concern for those engaged in artisanal and small-scale gold mining or in recycling mercury-containing products. Recently, stationary and personal passive air samplers based on activated carbon sorbents and radial diffusive barriers have been shown to be suitable for measuring GEM concentrations across the range relevant for chronic health effects. Here, we used a combination of stationary and personal passive samplers to characterize the inhalation exposure to gaseous elemental mercury of individuals living and working in two Ghanaian gold mining communities and working at a Norwegian e-waste recycling facility. Exposure concentrations ranging from < 7 ng/m3 to >500 g/m3 were observed, with the higher end of the range occurring in one gold mining community. Large differences in the GEM exposure averaged over the length of a workday between individuals can be rationalized by their activity and proximity to mercury sources. In each of the three settings, the measured exposure of the highest exposed individuals exceeded the highest concentration recorded with a stationary sampler, presumably because those individuals were engaged in an activity that generated or involved GEM vapors. High day-to-day variability in exposure for those who participated on more than one day, suggest the need for sampling over multiple days for reliable exposure characterization. Overall, a combination of personal and stationary passive sampling is a cost- effective approach that cannot only provide information on exposure levels relative to regulatory thresholds, but also can identify emission hotspots and therefore guide mitigation measures.
This is an article published in Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts,
Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2021, DOI: 10.1039/D0EM00494D.