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Antimony in the soil–water–plant system at the Su Suergiu abandoned mine (Sardinia, Italy): Strategies to mitigate contamination

The Science of The Total Environment
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.07.117
  • Antimony
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Plant
  • Contamination
  • Mitigation
  • Abandoned Mine
  • Sardinia
  • Agricultural Science
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Science


Abstract This study was aimed to implement the understanding of the Sb behavior in near-surface environments, as a contribution to address appropriate mitigation actions at contaminated sites. For this purpose, geochemical data of soil (8 sites), water (29 sites), and plant (12 sites) samples were collected. The study area is located at Su Suergiu and surroundings in Sardinia (Italy), an abandoned mine area heavily contaminated with Sb, with relevant impact on water bodies that supply water for agriculture and domestic uses. Antimony in the soil horizons ranged from 19 to 4400mgkg−1, with highest concentrations in soils located close to the mining-related wastes, and concentrations in the topsoil much higher than in the bedrock. The Sb readily available fraction was about 2% of the total Sb in the soil. Antimony in the pore water ranged from 23 to 1700μgL−1, with highest values in the Sb-rich soils. The waters showed neutral to slightly alkaline pH, redox potential values indicating oxidizing conditions, electrical conductivity in the range of 0.2 to 3.7mScm−1, and dissolved organic carbon ≤2mgL−1. The waters collected upstream of the mine have Ca-bicarbonate dominant composition, and median concentration of Sb(tot) of 1.7μgL−1 (that is total antimony determined in waters filtered through 0.45μm), a value relatively high as compared with the background value (≤0.5μgL−1 Sb) estimated for Sardinian waters, but below the limits established by the European Union and the World Health Organization for drinking water (5μgL−1 Sb and 20μgL−1 Sb, respectively). The waters flowing in the mine area are characterized by Ca-sulfate dominant composition, and median concentrations of 7000μgL−1 Sb(tot). Extreme concentrations, up to 30,000μgL−1 Sb(tot), were observed in waters flowing out of the slag materials derived from the processing of Sb-ore. The Sb(III) was in the range of 0.8 to 760μgL−1 and represented up to 6% of Sb(tot). In the waters collected downstream of the mine, median Sb(tot) concentrations decreased as distance from the mine area increases: 1300μgL−1 Sb(tot) in the stream Rio Ciurixeda at 3km distance, and 25μgL−1 Sb(tot) in the main River Flumendosa 15km further downstream. Attenuation of Sb contamination was mainly due to dilution. Results of modeling, carried out by both EQ3 and Visual MINTEQ computer programs, suggest that sorption of dissolved Sb onto solid phases, and/or precipitation of Sb-bearing minerals, likely give a minor contribution to attenuation of Sb contamination. The slightly alkaline pH and oxidizing conditions might favor the persistence of inorganic Sb(V)-bearing species at long distance in the studied waters. Concentrations of Sb in the plants Pistacia lentiscus and Asparagus ranged from 0.1 to 22mgkg−1, with maximum values in plants growing very close to the mining-related wastes. The P. lentiscus grows well on the soils highly contaminated with Sb at Su Suergiu and might be used for revegetation of the Sb-rich heaps, thus contributing to reduce the dispersion of contaminated materials. Major effects of contamination were observed on the water bodies located downstream of the Su Suergiu abandoned mine. The maximum load (16.6kg Sb per day) to the Flumendosa, the main aquatic recipient, was observed after heavy rain events. Therefore, priorities of mitigation actions should be focused on minimizing the contact of rain and runoff waters on the heaps of mining wastes.

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