Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Catherine W. Yeckel

Second Advisor

Mark B. Russi


Background: Roşia Montană gold mine is the site of historic mining operations since Roman times. Contamination of nearby communitiesby historic mining activities is of serious concern.

Objective: The study objective is to investigate whether living in the vicinity of historic gold mining increases risk of arsenic exposure from the surrounding environment, and if dietary intake from home gardens is associated with reduced risk of arsenic exposure.

Methods: We performed assessments in 64 participants from 57 households within the target communities. All study participants gave written informed consent. The study was approved by the institutional review boards of the regional public health authority of Alba County in Romania. Urine samples were digested and analyzed, while fingernails were washed, digested and analyzed. Data were compiled as geometric means of urinary total arsenic concentration (µg/L) and fingernail arsenic concentration (µg/g).

Results: 64 participants in the study were divided into 4 clusters based on distance from the historic mine. Urine total arsenic from the closest cluster to the farthest was 30.65 ± 7.60 µg/L, 27.19 ± 14.17 µg/L, 34.11 ± 11.54 µg/L, 28.97 ± 8.56 µg/L, respectively, all significantly below the present standard for urinary arsenic 100 µg/L. In contrast, fingernail arsenic was 10.73 ± 4.87 µg/g, 12.91 ± 3.42 µg/g, 12.09 ± 1.08 µg/g, 9.35 ± 3.87 µg/g, all significantly above the present standard of nail arsenic of 1 µg/g. Overall, we did not find evidence that people who live closer to the mine had higher exposure to arsenic compared to those lived farther away. Drinking water source, dietary intake of leafy vegetable and fish, and cleaning practices did not have significant effects on either urinary total arsenic or fingernail arsenic. Self-reported symptoms (extremity numbness, frequent and reoccurring heartburn, frequent leg/muscle cramps, frequent joint pains) were not found to be correlated with the average distances controlled for self-perceived health status and knowledge of arsenic exposure, suggesting these symptoms were less likely to have a causal relationship or to be associated with gold mining activities. Self-reported frequent leg cramps was associated with increased urinary total arsenic concentration.

Conclusion: Our data demonstrate an apparent low-level, on-going, all-source arsenic exposure together with a high historic arsenic exposure. Our study provides evidence that people living within 38 km from historic gold mines still retain a body burden of arsenic exposure that is not reflected in elevated urine total arsenic. And there is concern of self-reported adverse health effects associated with current low-level on-going exposure in this area. These findings suggest that fingernail arsenic concentration may be a better predictor of arsenic environmental exposure than urinary total arsenic in the area with a specific exposure profile - low-level, on-going, all-source and high historic arsenic exposure. But using both fingernail and urinary arsenic concentrations may offer an opportunity for a more effective approach to capture adverse effects from low-level exposure, and predict and convey information regarding long-term exposure burden after overall environmental arsenic exposure has diminished.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access