Mine tailings are a potential source of heavy metals (HM) that can be toxic to microbes, plants, and animals in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Bacteria have evolved several mechanisms to tolerate the uptake of HM ions. This study aimed to assess the physicochemical properties, concentrations of selected HM and metalloids [arsenic (As), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), zinc (Zn), cadmium (Cd), and cobalt (Co)], and isolate potential metal-tolerant bacteria present at three abandoned gold mining sites with a view of understanding how tailings characteristics vary and the implications on microbial activities in tailings dumps. Heavy-metal-tolerant bacteria were isolated from the samples using minimum inhibitory and maximum tolerable concentrations of the Ni, Pb, Zn, Cd, and Co. The substrates of the studied sites were acidic and deficient in nutrients. High metals and metalloid concentrations in the order Zn > Ni > Co > As > Pb > Cd were recorded in some of the studied sites and its adjacent soil which exceeded South African recommended values for soil and sediments. Heavy-metal-tolerant bacteria that showed multiple tolerances to Ni, Pb, and Zn were isolated and putatively identified using biochemical tests as belonging to the phyla Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, and Firmicutes. Gold mine tailings enriched the soil with HM and also affect soil physicochemical properties. Proper management of mine wastes must be ensured to prevent their adverse effects on the diversity, composition, and activity of soil microorganisms that help in maintenance of the ecosystem.
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