Objectives: To describe the process for obtaining mercury and the historical exposure to mercury of Almaden miners.
Methods: We collected information on every workplace and historical data on production, technological changes in the productive process and biological and environmental values of mercury. A job-exposure matrix was built with these values and the exposure to inorganic mercury was estimated quantitatively as μg/L of urine mercury. A cumulative exposure index was calculated for every worker by adding the estimates for every year in the different workplaces.
Results: In the mine, the highest exposures occurred during drilling, with air values up to 2.26 mg/m3, 2,194 μg/L in urine, and 374 μg/L in blood. Furnace operation and cleaning were the tasks with the highest values in metallurgy, peaking up to 3.37 mg/m3. The filling of mercuy bottles by free fall originated values within a range of 1.13 to 2.43 mg/m3; these values dropped to 0.32-0.83 mg/m3 after the introduction of a new ventilation system. The toxicity of high doses of inorganic mercury on the central nervous and urinary systems has been known for decades.
Conclusions: The exposure to mercury of the workers in Almaden mines has been very high. The extremely high content cinnabar ore of the mine explains the elevated mercury concentrations in air in all the work places. This, jointly with inadequate working conditions, explains the high blood and urine levels found along the study period.
- industrial hygiene
- inorganic mercury
- occupational exposure
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