Antimony in the environment: is it a problem?
Antimony has dramatically increased in the environment since the Industrial Revolution, and there is growing concern about its presence because of chemical similarities with arsenic. Researchers at the IAE are collaborating with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to better understand the potential risks of antimony in Australia and China.
“The environmental chemistry of antimony is not yet well understood, including how it cycles through the environment and its’ potential to be taken up into the food chain,” says IAE Associate Professor Simon Foster. “So we don’t really know how much of a problem we have yet.”
Dr Zengping Ning from the Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, was working at the IAE in Canberra for much of 2016. “I read many articles by IAE researchers such as Bill Maher, Simon Foster and Frank Krikowa focusing on the speciation of antimony and its’ impact on the environment, so I was keen to come here and work with them in person. I was also looking forward to building a long term cooperative relationship with Professor Maher’s group and other IAE researchers in the field of antimony pollution in environment,” says Dr Ning. Dr Ning’s primary research focus is on the distribution, bioavailability and accumulation of antimony from antimony mining and smelting in a heavily populated area in southwest China. Specifically, He is focusing on antimony species in the interface between soils and plants.
Researchers at the IAE have developed methods to determine the chemical forms of antimony, and are investigating the uptake and bioaccumulation of antimony in a highly contaminated stream near the Hillgrove antimony–gold mine in NSW. “We know that antimony is being transferred to the upper trophic levels of the creek ecosystem,” says Associate Professor Simon Foster.
By working together they will better understand the association of antimony in soils, and the transfer and transform mechanism in the interface between soils and plants.