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Environmental impact of mining activities on the surface water quality in Tibet: Gyama valley

Huang, Xiang, Sillanpää, Mika, Gjessing, Egil T., Peräniemi, Sirpa, Vogt, Rolf D.
Science of the total environment 2010 v.408 no.19 pp. 4177-4184
acid mine drainage, aluminum, environmental impact, global warming, heavy metals, iron, lead, manganese, mining, risk, rivers, sediments, sorption, surface water, water pollution, water quality, zinc, China
Nearly 20years of industrial scale metal mining operations in Tibet have caused an impact on the region's surface water quality. However, no information with respect to the pollution has been provided to the public. The aim of this work was to evaluate the chemical quality of the stream water and to assess the present and future potential risks of acid mine drainage to the regional and downstream environments. This study, based on data collected in 2006, 2007 and 2008 in the Gyama valley, using the Environmental Risk Index (I ER) documents that elevated concentrations of Cu, Pb, Zn, Mn, Fe and Al in the surface water and streambed at the upper/middle part of the valley pose a considerably high risk to the local environment. In contrast, the risk level at the stream source area is zero and only minor risk at the lower reaches. The iron and copper contamination of the upper/middle part of the river appears to be both natural and accelerated by the mining activities. The level of dissolved contaminants in the water decreases within short distance downstream due to precipitation and sorption to the streambed and strong dilution by a tributary stream and eventually by the Lhasa River. A high content of heavy metals in the stream sediments as well as in a number of tailings with gangue and material from the ore processing, poses a great potential threat to the downstream water users. Environmental changes such as global warming or increased mining activity may increase the mobility of these pools of heavy metals.