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Environmental fate & pathways

Bioaccumulation: terrestrial

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The studies available on terrestrial bioaccumulation of antimony are non-standard but together indicate that accumulation is expected to be low. The BSAF for both earthworms and plants is generally reported to be below 1. Based on these data and the approach used in the EU RAR for diantimony trioxide a BSAF of 1 for earthworms will be used in this assessment.

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Additional information

There are no laboratory studies available on bioaccumulation of antimony in earthworms. However, concentrations of antimony in soil and invertebrates at locations close to an antimony smelter have been measured by Ainsworth et al. (1990b). The highest antimony concentrations were found in earthworms (Oligochaeta). The dry weight concentrations (including gut contents) were 398 ± 94 mg/kg, 213 ± 65 mg/kg and 109 ± 28 mg/kg, at 100m, 250m and 450m downwind of the smelter. The EU RAR for diantimony trioxide used measurements presented in figures in Ainsworth et al.(1990b) to derive the following approximations for the 0-5, 5-10, 10-15 and >15 cm depths for the 100m, 250m and 450m sites: 367, 253, 220 and 171 mg Sb/kg dw, 204, 155, 114 and 94 mg Sb/kg dw, and 180, 180, 163 and 135 mg Sb/kg dw, respectively. Ainsworth et al. gives earthworm body burden: soil ratios, which are 1.03, 1.05 and 0.6 for the 100m, 250m and 450m sites, respectively. Based on these data a biota-to-soil accumulation factor (BSAF) of 1 for earthworms was taken forward to the risk characterisation.

An additional study on the accumulation of antimony by two species of earthworms in the field has been identified (Gal et al., 2007). In this study the concentration of antimony in soil and earthworms at a former antimony mining and smelting site were measured. Earthworms were kept in the laboratory for four days before analysis under starvation conditions so that their gut contents were empty. Concentrations in the soil ranged from 4.7 -1200 mg Sb/kg dw. Concentrations in the earthworms ranged from 0.72 -26 mg Sb/kg dw. The BSAF calculated by Gal et al. ranged from 0.002 -0.140 with means of 0.034 for L. terrestris and 0.063 for O. cyaneum, respectively.

Initially, three studies have been identified that investigate the uptake of antimony by plants. De Gregori et al. (2003 and 2004) measured antimony concentrations in agricultural soils and the alfalfa crops being grown there. The results of these analyses are reported in two separate papers, but the same sites codes are reported allowing the concentrations in soil and plant matter to be paired. Antimony concentrations in soil ranged from 0.4 - 0.6 mg Sb/kg dw and the concentrations in the edible parts of the alfalfa ranged from 0.2 - 0.42 mg Sb/kg dw. The calculated BSAF ranged from 0.006 - 0.31.

Oorts et al. (2005) investigated the concentrations of antimony accumulated by lettuce in soil collected from an agricultural field. Two experiments were conducted: one with a soil sample collected in 2005 and one with a soil sample from the same field but which had been aged for five years outdoors. The concentrations of antimony in the aged and newly collected soils were 0.4 mg Sb/kg and 0.6 mg Sb/kg respectively. After 24 days exposure to the freshly spiked soil and 2 months exposure to the aged soil the concentrations in the edible portions were measured. The concentrations measured in the lettuce are read from a graph in the report, but indicate that the BSAF would be in the range 0.33 - 1.2.

Gal et al. (2007) also measured the concentrations of antimony in ferns and grasses and a former antimony mining and smelting site. Concentrations in the fern stems ranged from <0.001 - 7.5 mg Sb/kg dw, in fern leaf from <0.001 - 0.83 mg Sb/kg dw and in grass from <0.001 - 7.7 mg Sb/kg dw. The BSAF calculated by Gal et al. for plants ranged from <0.001 - 0.038, with means of 0.007 for fern stem, 0.002 for fern leaves and 0.009 for grass respectively.

Several studies on antimony levels in plants have been published since 2010. Many of these studies were conducted in contaminated mining areas. Natural occurring plants were collected on-site, and concentrations of Sb in the plants (whole plant, roots, shoots, leaves, aerial parts) were determined. All these studies confirm the previous findings that the BSAF for plants is typically lower than 1, and that the translocation factor within the plants is also lower than 1; the highest levels of Sb are typically found in the roots. A concise overview of BSAFroots from relevant, recent studies is given below:

  • Vaculik et al (2013) reported on BSAFroot values that were situated between 0.054 and 0.273 for six different plants. Sb-concentrations levels in the soil samples, taken from old mining sites in Slovakia, were between 523.3 and 4462 mg/kg.

  • Pérez-Sirvent et al (2011) investigated the distribution of Sb in soils and plants near an abandoned mining site in Murcia (Spain). Plant and soil samples from fifteen locations were collected. Sb-levels in the soil ranged from 5.78 to 39.9 mg/kg. The BSAF values for eleven different plant species were all well below 1 (min-max: 0.07-0.34). The transfer factors (the ratio between the concentration of antimony in the leaves and in the root) were all below 0.28.

  • Okkenhaug et al (2011) determined Sb-levels in soil and plants from an active Sb mining aera in Xikuangshan (China). Elevated concentrations in nine native plant species were reported (109-4029 mg/kg); Sb-levels in the soil was between 527 and 11798 mg/kg. The corresponding calculated BSAFs ranged from 0.02 to 0.87.

  • The accumulation of antimony in plants growing in two Iranian mining areas (Moghanlo, Patyar) was studied by Hajiani et al. (2015). The maximum reported BF for Moghano (n=95) and Patyar (n=45) plants were 0.068 and 0.056, respectively.

  • Cidu et al (2014) determined Sb-concentrations in the roots of Pistacia lentiscus at the Su Suergiu abandoned mine (Sardinia, Italy), resulting in BFs between 0.001 and 0.045 (n=7). Apart from one value of 1.153, the translocation factor to leaves were found between 0.063 and 0.445.

  • Alvarez-Ayuso et al (2012, 2013) published BSAFs for 24 plants that were collected from soils that were impacted by former mining activities and exploitations. Overall, the BFs for roots were higher than those for other plant parts, which is reflected in translocation factors that are typically below 1. The min-max range for BSAFroot was 0.008-0.105. 

  • Anawar et al. (2011) did not report BSAFs, but did provide the individual concentration levels of Sb in plants and soil samples taken from 4 locations in a mine tailings affected area in Portugal. Sb-concentrations in the soil were situated between 410 and 2513 mg/kg. The measured Sb in plants were found between 0.5 and 6.67 mg/kg. The calculated BSAFs were between 0.0004 and 0.0163.

  • Bech et al (2012) also reported individual concentration of Sb in soil plants species (n=8) around a former antimony mine located in te Ribes Valley (Pyrenees). Using the reported Sb-concentrations in soil (8.1-2904 mg/kg), roots (1.9-402 mg/kg) and shoots (1.1-69 mg/kg), species-specific BSAFroot and translocation factors could be calculated. The BSAFroot were between 0.013 and 0.370. In all but one case (TF of 1.63), the translocation factor was below 1, further confirming that Sb-levels in roots are typically higher than those in other parts of the plant.

  • Fu et al (2016) reported concentrations of Sb in soil (S) and mine tailings (MT), and also determined Sb-levels in the plants (MT) and vegetables (S) that were grown upon them. The whole plant BSAF (MT, N= 6) ranged between 0.002 and 0.012, whereas the vegetable BSAF (S, n=8) were situated between 0.004 and 0.041.

  • Finally Shtangeeva et al (2014) grew wheat seedlings for 17 days in Sb-spiked soil and determined BSAFroot of 0.04 -0.29 for this plant.