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Mass balance of arsenic fluxes in rivers impacted by gold mining activities in Paracatu (Minas Gerais State, Brazil)

Bidone, Edison, Cesar, Ricardo, Santos, MariaCarla, Sierpe, Ricardo, Silva-Filho, EmmanuelVieira, Kutter, Vinicius, Dias da Silva, LílianI., Castilhos, Zuleica
Environmental science and pollution research international 2018 v.25 no.9 pp. 9085-9100
arsenic, decision making, drinking water, gold, humans, iron, iron oxyhydroxides, mining, particle size, pollution, remediation, rivers, rural areas, sediments, sorption, ultrafiltration, watersheds, Brazil
Arsenic (As) is a dangerous and carcinogenic element and drinking water is its main pathway of human exposure. Gold mines are widely recognized as important sources of As pollution. This work proposes the assessment of As distribution along watersheds surrounding “Morro do Ouro” gold mine (Paracatu, southeastern Brazil). A balance approach between filtered As fluxes (As < 0.45 μm) and suspended particulate material (AsSPM) in different river segments was applied. Ultrafiltration procedure was used to categorize As into the following classes: particulate > 0.1 μm, colloidal < 0.1 μm to > 10 kDa, dissolved < 10 kDa to > 1 kDa, and truly dissolved < 1 kDa. By applying this approach, arsenic contributions from mining facilities were quantified in order to identify critical fluvial segments and support decision makers in actions of remediation. The mass balance indicated the occurrence of a decreasing gradient from upstream to downstream: (i) of the As concentrations higher than the limit established by Brazilian law (10 μg L⁻¹); (ii) of the ratio between specific fluxes (g As km⁻² day⁻¹) and those determined using an uncontaminated watershed (a proxy for estimating the anthropic contribution), from 103 to 101; (iii) of the specific fluxes As < 0.45 μm and AsSPM from 102 to 100; and (iv) of the negative balance output minus input for each river segment that suggests As accumulation in sediments along the rivers in both urban and rural areas, mainly due to SPM sedimentation and sorption by Fe oxyhydroxides. Ultrafiltration shattering showed concentrations of decreasing As with particle size; the SPM load (> 0.1 μm) was almost one order higher to dissolved load (< 1 kDa).