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Toxicity and potential risk assessment of a river polluted by acid mine drainage in the Iberian Pyrite Belt (SW Spain)

Sarmiento, Aguasanta M., DelValls, Angel, Nieto, José Miguel, Salamanca, María José, Caraballo, Manuel A.
The Science of the total environment 2011 v.409 no.22 pp. 4763-4771
acid mine drainage, aluminum, aquatic environment, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, mining, pH, pyrites, risk, risk assessment, rivers, sediment contamination, sediments, streams, surface water, toxicity, water pollution, water quantity, zinc, Spain
Metal contamination from acid mine drainage (AMD) is a serious problem in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, where the Iberian Pyrite Belt is located. This zone contains original sulfide reserves of about 1700Mt distributed among more than 50 massive sulfide deposits. Weathering of these minerals releases to the waters significant quantities of toxic elements, which severely affect the sediments and surface waters of the region. The main goal of this paper is to evaluate the toxicity and the potential risk associated with the mining areas using Microtox test and different factors which assess the degree of contamination of the sediments and waters. For this, a natural stream polluted by AMD-discharge from an abandoned mine has been studied. The results show that elevated concentrations of Cu, As and Zn involve an important potential risk on the aquatic environment, associated both with sediments and waters. Microtox test informs that the sediments are extremely or very toxic, mainly related to concentrations of Fe, As, Cr, Al, Cd, Cu and Zn. Pollution is mainly transferred to the sediments increasing their potential toxicity. A natural creek affected by AMD can store a huge amount of pollution in its sediments while exhibiting a not very low water pH and low water metal concentration.