Abandoned metal mines and their impact on receiving waters: A case study from Southwest England.
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Historic mine sites are a major source of contamination to terrestrial and river environments. To demonstrate the importance of determining the significance of point and diffuse metal contamination and the related bioavailability of the metals present from abandoned mines a case study has been carried out. The study provides a quantitative assessment of a historic mine site, Wheal Betsy, southwest England, and its contribution to non-compliance with Water Framework Directive (WFD) Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) for Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn. Surface water and sediment samples showed significant negative environmental impacts even taking account of the bioavailability of the metal present, with lead concentration in the stream sediment up to 76 times higher than the Canadian sediment guidelines 'Probable Effect Level'. Benthic invertebrates showed a decline in species richness adjacent to the mine site with lead and cadmium the main cause. The main mine drainage adit was the single most significant source of metal (typically 50% of metal load from the area, but 88% for Ni) but the mine spoil tips north and south of the adit input added together discharged roughly an equivalent loading of metal with the exception of Ni. The bioavailability of metal in the spoil tips exhibited differing spatial patterns owing to varying ambient soil physico-chemistry. The data collected is essential to provide a clear understanding of the contamination present as well as its mobility and bioavailability, in order to direct the decision making process regarding remediation options and their likely effectiveness.
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