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Your Environment. Your Health.

Colorado School of Mines

Superfund Research Program

Remediation Effectiveness for Mining Sites: Hysteresis and Metal Mixtures Effect

Project Leader: James F. Ranville
Grant Number: R01ES020917
Funding Period: 2011-2014
View this project in the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT)


In almost all ecosystems, metals occur in mixtures, this is especially true at mining sites. Accurate assessment of metal exposure and effects to humans and ecosystems must account for mixture effects, which could be additive, less than additive, or more than additive. However, current regulatory and management practices usually address individual metals, because adequate tools are not yet available for predicting bioavailability and toxicity of mixtures. Dr. James Ranville's long-term objective is to address this shortcoming is to improve the ability to measure, understand, and predict bioavailability and toxicity of metal mixtures arising from environmental contamination. Dr. Ranville will address three specific aims in this research. First, he is solving a major challenge in analytical measurement of metal bioavailability by developing the “gellyfish” sampler to obtain free metal concentrations in water/sediment systems. Experiments are being performed both in the laboratory and in field deployments of the sampler at the Central City/Clear Creek Superfund site. Second, he is further developing a model of the toxicity of metal mixtures to individual species of aquatic organisms based on a mixed-metal, multi-site biotic ligand model (MMMS BLM). This is being accomplished with laboratory D. magna toxicity tests using both simple solutions and water samples collected from the site. The third objective is to integrate the procedures and information gained from the first two objectives with measurements of more complex effects of metal mixtures on aquatic communities exposed to mixtures in stream microcosms set up in the laboratory. Dr. Ranville is also conducting a "natural experiment" in a metal-contaminated stream and examining responses before, during and after installation of a treatment system that will decrease concentrations of the metals. Because some metals like iron can be toxic to aquatic invertebrates and fish in streams but can also make other metals less bioavailable (i.e., be protective), the researchers expect to see a hysteresis in the recovery of the stream as iron loading is decreased by the treatment system. Ultimately, in this research Dr. Ranville expects to make improvements in assessment methods which will provide a better means for protecting human and ecosystem health.