Silver mining in the early-1900s has left a legacy of arsenic-rich mine tailings around the town of Cobalt, in northeastern Ontario, Canada. Due to a lack of environmental control and regulations at that time, it was common for mines to dispose of their waste into adjacent lakes and land depressions, concentrating metals and metalloids in sensitive aquatic ecosystems. In order to examine what impacts, if any, these century-old, arsenic-rich mine tailings are having on present-day aquatic ecosystems, we sampled diatom assemblages in lake surface sediment in 24 lakes along a gradient of surface water arsenic contamination (0.4–972 μg/L). In addition, we examined sedimentary Cladocera and chironomid abundances and community composition, as well as open-water zooplankton communities and chlorophyll-a concentrations in10 of these study lakes along a gradient of arsenic contamination (0.9–1113 μg/L). Our results show that present-day arsenic concentration is not a significant driver of biotic community composition of the organisms we studied, but instead, that other variables such as lake depth and pH were more important in structuring assemblages. These results suggest that, while legacy contamination has greatly increased metal concentration beyond historical conditions, variability in lake-specific controls among the study lakes appear to be more important in the structuring of diatom, Cladocera, chironomidae, and zooplankton in these lakes.

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Science of the Total Environment

Little, A.J. (Amanda J.), Sivarajah, B. (Branaavan), Frendo, C. (Christina), Sprague, D.D. (Dale D.), Smol, J.P. (John P.), & Vermaire, J. (2020). The impacts of century-old, arsenic-rich mine tailings on multi-trophic level biological assemblages in lakes from Cobalt (Ontario, Canada). Science of the Total Environment, 709. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.136212