Study of the Environmental Hazard Caused by the Oil Shale Industry Solid Waste

Lee Põllumaa, Alla Maloveryan, Marina Trapido, Helgi Sillak and Anne Kahru

The environmental hazard was studied of eight soil and solid waste samples originating from a region of Estonia heavily polluted by the oil shale industry. The samples were contaminated mainly with oil products (up to 7231mg/kg) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs; up to 434mg/kg). Concentrations of heavy metals and water-extractable phenols were low. The toxicities of the aqueous extracts of solid-phase samples were evaluated by using a battery of Toxkit tests (involving crustaceans, protozoa, rotifers and algae). Waste rock and fresh semi-coke were classified as of “high acute toxic hazard”, whereas aged semi-coke and most of the polluted soils were classified as of “acute toxic hazard”. Analysis of the soil slurries by using the photobacterial solid-phase flash assay showed the presence of particle-bound toxicity in most samples. In the case of four samples out of the eight, chemical and toxicological evaluations both showed that the levels of PAHs, oil products or both exceeded their respective permitted limit values for the living zone (20mg PAHs/kg and 500mg oil products/kg); the toxicity tests showed a toxic hazard. However, in the case of three samples, the chemical and toxicological hazard predictions differed markedly: polluted soil from the Erra River bank contained 2334mg oil/kg, but did not show any water-extractable toxicity. In contrast, spent rock and aged semi-coke that contained none of the pollutants in hazardous concentrations, showed adverse effects in toxicity tests. The environmental hazard of solid waste deposits from the oil shale industry needs further assessment.
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