Toxicity of Pb/Zn mine tailings to the earthworm Pheretima and the effects of burrowing on metal availability

Y. Ma, N. M. Dickinson, Ming Hung WONG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

102 Citations (Scopus)


Lead and zinc mine tailings from Guangdong, China were found to be toxic to two common species of the earthworm Pheretima, unless the spoil was diluted by at least 20% with an artificial uncontaminated soil. With different soil dilutions, there were significant differences in mortality, growth and Zn uptake between the two species. Zinc and arsenic were principally responsible for the toxicity of the tailings. LC50 values for Zn, Pb, Cu and As for Pheretima were similar to those reported in the literature for Eisenia fetida. Following inoculation with the earthworms, spoil pH, EC and available metals increased; available-Pb and -Zn concentrations increased by up to 48.2% and 24.8% respectively. The findings suggest that earthworms may play an important role in reclamation of mining spoils to achieve a healthy soil supporting sustainable vegetation. Potentially increased toxicity of metals to plants and animals, through increased bioavailability in the presence of earthworms, is discussed in the context of their role in modifying the efficiency of phytoremediation treatments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-86
Number of pages8
JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Microbiology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • Heavy metals
  • Mine tailings
  • Pheretima
  • Reclamation
  • Toxicity


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