Environmental Chemistry Environmental Chemistry Society
Environmental problems - Chemical approaches
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Effect of episodic rainfall on aqueous metal mobility from historical mine sites

Magaly Valencia-Avellan A E , Rebecca Slack B , Anthony Stockdale C and Robert John George Mortimer D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A water@leeds, School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JZ, UK.

B The Royal Horticultural Society, Harlow Carr, Crag Lane, Beckwithshaw, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG3 1QB, UK.

C School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JZ, UK.

D School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, Nottingham Trent University, Brackenhurst Campus, Southwell, Nottinghamshire, NG25 0QF, UK.

E Corresponding author. Email: magyvalencia80@gmail.com

Environmental Chemistry 14(8) 469-475 https://doi.org/10.1071/EN17133
Submitted: 23 July 2017  Accepted: 14 November 2017   Published: 21 March 2018

Journal compilation © CSIRO 2018 Open Access CC BY-NC-ND

Environmental context. Episodic extreme rainfall events may affect metal dynamics in rivers flowing within historical metal mining areas. This study provides an analysis of the water chemistry and geochemical processes associated with mobilisation of metals during episodic rainfall events. Findings could be used to assess the environmental quality of streams draining spoil waste areas with similar geochemical conditions, and thereby be used to guide future management strategies.

Abstract. The increasing frequency and magnitude of episodic rainfall events may affect historical metal mining areas by remobilisation and deposition of metal-rich sediments and enhancing metal-rich run off, impacting river water quality. This study assesses the effects of episodic rainfall in a Carboniferous headwater catchment contaminated by historical Pb and Zn mining. Comprehensive hourly water chemistry measurements combined with modelling using PHREEQC, WHAM/Model VII and WHAM-FTOX were used in this assessment. For the episodic event, we measured flow increases from a baseline of 0.05 to 2.12 m3 s−1 at peak flow. Changes in metal concentration were most marked for ephemeral tributary, with Pb increasing from a baseline concentration of 55 μg L−1 to a peak of 576 μg L−1. Behaviour for Pb showed great affinity to form organic complexes or bind to colloidal Al and Fe oxides, whereas for Zn and the tributary flowing subsurface a more complex behaviour was observed. For example, the dissolution of secondary metal carbonate minerals (e.g. smithsonite (ZnCO3)) is likely constrained by higher concentrations of carbonate and bicarbonate derived from increased bedrock weathering under flow conditions induced by episodic rainfall. The abundance of secondary mineral sources and circumneutral pH present during episodic rainfall are important factors controlling the mobilisation of Pb and Zn. Furthermore, episodic rainfall events could enhance metal toxicity but there are aggravating and mitigating factors that depend on site-specific chemical changes. Overall, this study highlighted the complexity of metal mobility and toxicity during these events.


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