Identifying the Cause of Toxicity of a Saline Mine Water
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Elevated major ions (or salinity) are recognised as being a key contributor to the toxicity of many mine waste waters but the complex interactions between the major ions and large inter-species variability in response to salinity, make it difficult to relate toxicity to causal factors. This study aimed to determine if the toxicity of a typical saline seepage water was solely due to its major ion constituents; and determine which major ions were the leading contributors to the toxicity. Standardised toxicity tests using two tropical freshwater species Chlorella sp. (alga) and Moinodaphnia macleayi (cladoceran) were used to compare the toxicity of 1) mine and synthetic seepage water; 2) key major ions (e.g. Na, Cl, SO4 and HCO3); 3) synthetic seepage water that were modified by excluding key major ions. For Chlorella sp., the toxicity of the seepage water was not solely due to its major ion concentrations because there were differences in effects caused by the mine seepage and synthetic seepage. However, for M. macleayi this hypothesis was supported because similar effects caused by mine seepage and synthetic seepage. Sulfate was identified as a major ion that could predict the toxicity of the synthetic waters, which might be expected as it was the dominant major ion in the seepage water. However, sulfate was not the primary cause of toxicity in the seepage water and electrical conductivity was a better predictor of effects. Ultimately, the results show that specific major ions do not clearly drive the toxicity of saline seepage waters and the effects are probably due to the electrical conductivity of the mine waste waters.
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