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Arsenic in plants important to two Yukon First Nations : impacts of gold mining and reclamation practices Nicholson, Heather Christine

Abstract

This project examines arsenic in plants growing near closed or reclaimed gold mines located in the traditional territories of two Yukon First Nations. A total of 238 soil and plant samples (comprising 9 different species) were collected from Mt. Nansen, Arctic Gold and Silver, and Venus Mine tailing properties. At each property, samples were collected near the suspected point source of contamination, approximately 1 -3 km away, and from background sites. Species were chosen for their ethnobotanical significance to the Little Salmon/Carmacks and the Carcross/Tagish First Nations, based on interviews with Elders and other knowledgeable people. Total and inorganic arsenic concentrations were determined using ICP-MS and AAS instrumentation, and organic arsenic concentrations were calculated from the difference. Uptake of arsenic by plants was low compared to soil arsenic concentrations. In both plants and soil, the arsenic form was predominantly inorganic. Concentrations in berries at all three sites were low or undetectable, and are therefore considered safe to eat under Health Canada tolerable daily intake guidelines for inorganic arsenic. At Mt. Nansen, the lichen "caribou moss" (Cetraria/Cladina spp.), Bolete mushrooms (Leccinum spp.), and the medicinal shrubs willow (Salix spp.) and Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum/L. decumbens spp.) had high mean arsenic concentrations around point sources or at sites up to 1.5 km away. These localized high concentrations will not likely affect foraging animals, given their constant movement. However, Carmacks residents could avoid gathering all species with elevated arsenic around the Mt. Nansen mining property until reclamation is complete.

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