Manual 21364529

Manual 21364529
Chapter 2
Page 2.1
Over ninety-nine per cent of the element content of the earth's crust is composed of the "major
elements" which are 0, Si, Al, Fe, Ca, Na, K, Mg, Ti and P. The remainder of the elements in
the periodic table are trace elements as their specific concentrations in the earth's crust do not
generally exceed 0,1 per cent (1000 mglkg) (Alloway, 1995). Trace elements can also be referred
to as micro-nutrients which are those elements essential for growth and development of
organisms (e.g. Zn, Mn, Cu, Fe, Mo and B). However, a micro-nutrient in excessive quantity can
be toxic, while non-essential exogenous metals, for example Cd and Hg, are toxic at virtually all
concentrations. Heavy metals refer to metallic elements with an atomic weight greater than that
of Fe (55,8 glmol) or to an element with a density greater than 5,0 glcm3 (Pierzynski, Sims &
Vance, 1994). Although trace elements are ubiquitous in soil parent material, soils are
contaminated by trace elements due to anthropogenic inputs. According to Alloway (1995), the
major sources of anthropogenic trace element inputs are: metalliferous mining and smelting;
agricultural and horticultural materials; sewage sludges; fossil fuel combustion; metallurgical
industries (manufacture, use and disposal of metals); electronics (manufacture, use and disposal
of electronic equipment); chemical and other manufacturing industries; waste disposal, warfare
and military training.
Geochemical origin of trace elements in soils
Trace elements occur in rock forming minerals due to isomorphic substitution or by fixation on
free structural sites. Isomorphic substitution refers to the replacement of one of the major
elements by a trace element ion in the crystal lattice ofthe mineral at the time of crystallization.
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Page 2.2
The substitution is governed by the ionic charge, ionic radius and electronegativity ofthe major
element and the trace element replacing it. Substitution can take place when there is a difference
ofless than 15 per cent in the radii ofthe replacing ions and when the charge ofthe ions do not
differ by more than one unit (Bohn, McNeal & O'Conner, 1985). The natural concentration of
trace elements in soils is a result of weathering that releases trace elements from their host
minerals during soil formation (Kabata-Pendias, 1992).
Soils represent a dynamic chemical system where mineral transformation occurs continuously.
Weathering is the basic soil forming process and the degree of weathering that trace element
containing primary minerals are sUbjected to, will therefore influence the lithogenic metal content
of soils (Kabata-Pendias & Pendias, 1986). Weathering can be defined as the physical
disintegration and chemical decomposition of rocks (Alloway, 1995). Singer & Munns (1992),
describes physical weathering as the process which breaks down rocks to smaller particle sizes.
Processes such as freezing and thawing, uneven heating, abrasion and shrinking and swelling
(due to wetting and drying) break large particles into smaller ones. Plant roots that grow into thin
cracks or the formation of salt crystals in cracks, can force joints or cracks open until the rock
Chemical weathering is the process that changes minerals from their original composition to new
minerals and chemical components that are stable and equilibrated in the particular soil
environment in the presence ofwater (Kabata-Pendias & Pendias, 1986). The rates at which these
reactions take place are directly related to temperature and water availability, thus chemical
weathering is more pronounced in the humid tropics than in cold and dry areas (Alloway, 1995).
Water increases the rate of chemical weathering as water contains weathering agents (e.g. CO2,
O2, organic acids such as humic and fulvic acid, S02 (aq), H2 S04 and HN0 3) in solution and
transports these to chemically active sites on mineral surfaces. Water provides the H+ ion to
enable acid forming gasses to act as acids:
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Chapter 2
Page 2.3
Rainwater is usually slightly acidic due to the presence of dissolved CO2, or more acidic due to
acid-rain forming agents. Rainwater also lacks alkalinity and the slightly acidic rainwater is
chemically aggressive and promotes weathering (Manahan, 1994). Typical chemical weathering
reactions include: Dissolution; hydration; dehydration; hydrolysis; oxidation; acid hydrolysis and
complexation. These chemical weathering reactions are responsible for the conversion of rock
forming minerals to soils. According to White (1995), the rate at which chemical weathering of
silicate minerals in the natural environment takes place, depends on a number of factors,
including mineral surface reactivity, the role ofhydrologic heterogeneity on fluid residence times
in soils, soil pH, vegetation and climate.
2.2.2 Pedogenic processes that translocate trace elements in soils
Pedogenesis is defined by Alloway (1995) as the process by which a thin surface layer of soil
develops on weathered rock material, gradually increasing in thickness and undergoing
differentiation to form a soil profile. The soil profile contains distinct layers (horizons) which
differ, according to Jennings, Brink & Williams (1973), in moisture content, colour, consistency,
structure, and texture. Soil formation is a function of climate, biological activity, topography,
parent material and time (White, 1995).
Soil is a multicomponent system consisting of solid, liquid and gaseous phases as well as living
organisms (Bohn et al., 1985). The solid phase is composed of inorganic matter (primary and
secondary soil minerals) and organic matter. The liquid phase or the soil solution is a water
solution with a composition and reactivity defined by the properties of the incoming water and
affected by fluxes of matter and energy originating from the soil solid phase, biological system
and the atmosphere. The gaseous phase or the soil atmosphere is composed of the same gases as
the atmosphere (C02, N2 and 02) as well as gases that arise from biological activity (Yaron,
Calvert & Prost, 1996).
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Page 2.4
Natural translocation and accumulation oftrace elements in soils are the result of soil processes
which include leaching, gleying, podzolization, surface organic accumulation and ferralitisation
(Thornton, 1999).
According to Bourg (1995), the mobility oftrace elements in soils depends on a complex network
of interactions between aqueous and heterogeneous chemical reactions, as well as physical
phenomena such as particle coagulation and flocculation. Bourg (1995), distinguishes between
soil chemical reactions that tend to increase trace element mobility in soils (e.g. dissolved
inorganic and organic complexation) and reactions that delay trace element availability and
transport (e.g. precipitation, adsorption, co-precipitation and sorption).
The soil solution is the medium for these reactions, and the dynamic equilibria reactions which
can occur in soils are schematically displayed in Figure. 2.1 after Lindsay (1979) and Sparks
(1995). Plants take up ions in the soil solution which can then be redistributed in the food chain
(1). These ions are released back to the soil solution when the plants die and decompose (2). Ions
in the soil solution can be sorbed on inorganic and organic soil components (3) and these sorbed
ions can be desorbed back to the soil solution (4). If the soil solution becomes supersaturated
with a certain mineral, this mineral will precipitate (5) and a mineral will dissolve if the soil
solution is undersaturated with a mineral, until equilibrium is reached (6). Ions in the soil
solution can be transported through the soil to the groundwater or ions can be removed through
surface runoff Upward movement of ions can occur through capillarity, a process driven by
evaporation and drying (7 and 8). Micro-organisms can remove ions from the soil solution (9).
When these organisms die and organic matter is decomposed, ions are released into the soil
solution (10 and 2). Gases may be released to the soil atmosphere in soil pores (11) or become
dissolved in the soil solution (12).
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Chapter 2 while low or negative values indicate the existence of reduced species and the soil is said to be
under anaerobic conditions. Oxic soil conditions range between +300 to +800 mV (pE of 5,1 •
l3,5) while reducing soil conditions range between +118 to -414 mV (pE of +2 to -7). The Eh
of soil can be measured, but soil colour provide a good indication ofthe redox status ofthe soil.
Red and bright yellow-brown colours indicate oxic conditions while blue-green, dull yellow and
grey soil colours indicate anaerobic conditions. These colour differences are related to the
oxidation state of iron in the soil.
According to Kabata-Pendias (1992) the affmity of metals to the various soil components
governs their mobility. Metals such as Cd and Zn that are generally more mobile, exist mainly
as organically bound, exchangeable and water soluble species, while less mobile elements such
as Pb, Ni and Cr are mainly bound in silicates or the residual fraction. Copper and Mo occur
predominately in organically bound or exchangeable soil fractions. The water soluble, organically
bound and exchangeable soil fractions are the most mobile trace element occurrences in soils.
Figure. 2.2 depicts the speciation of heavy metals in soils. The mobility of metals in soils is
strongly influenced by changing soil environmental conditions.
According to Forstner & Kersten (1988) the solubility, mobility and bioavailability of particle­
bound metals can be increased by four main factors in terrestrial and aquatic environments:
1. Lowering of pH. In general most metal cations are most mobile under acid conditions
with the exception ofMo that is more mobile under alkaline soil conditions.
2. Increased occurrence of natural or synthetic complexing agents which can form soluble
metal complexes that will increase metal mobility.
3. Increasing salt concentrations result in an increase in competition for sorption sites on
solid surfaces which increase the release of metals from sorption sites. In addition, CI
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Chapter 2
Table 2.2.
Relative mobilities of elements in sediments and soils as function of Eh and pH
(after Forstner & Kersten (1988), cf, references therein).
Electron Activity
Very low
Very high
AI, Cr, Mo, V,
U, Se, S, B
Si, K, P, Ni
AI, Cr, Fe, Mn
Si, K, P, Pb
Si, K, P, Pb
Co, Ni, Hg, Cu,
Ca, Na, Mg, Sr
K, Fe(III)
AI, Pb, Cu, Cr,
Ca, Na, Mg, Zn,
Zn Cd
Ca, Na, Mg, Sr,
Ca, Na, Mg, Cr
Cd, Hg
Mo, V, U, Se
ct, I, Br, S, B,
CI, I, Br
CI, I, Br, B
Proton activity
Neutral to
AI, Cr, Hg, Cu,
Ni, Co
CI, I, Br, B
Mo, V, U, Se
At least 25 elements are considered essential to life; these include C, H, N, 0 and macro­
nutrients such as Na, K, Mg, S, P, CI, Si and Fe, ofwhich the majority are metals. This trend also
holds for the micro-nutrients that are V, Cr, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Ca, Zn, Mo, Se, Fe and 1. Trace
elements or "heavy metals" refer to micro-nutrients and other non-essential elements that have
low natural environmental concentrations. The micro-nutrients are essential to growth but a
micro-nutrient in excessive quantity can be toxic, while non-essential exogenous metals, for
example Hg, are toxic at virtually all concentrations (Crounse et aI., 1983). Any trace element
can have an adverse effect on any organism if the dose is high enough. The biological function,
phytotoxicity and mammalian toxicity character of some trace elements are presented in Table
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Chapter 2
According to McBride (1994) the elements listed in Table 2.3 that are more toxic to animals than
plants (e.g. As and Pb) present the most insidious hazard to human health as these elements may
accumulate in plants to concentrations that are toxic to animals or humans while the plants do not
display any signs of phytotoxicity. The toxicity rating in Table 2.3 is dependant on the actual
likelihood or frequency of toxicity in the natural environment. For example, Mn has a low
toxicity to
plants but Mn- induced
phytotoxicity (commonly occuring as high
Mn2+concentrations) can develop in wet soils. In comparison, Cr and Pb have a higher
phytotoxicity rating but they are usually very insoluble in soils so that these elements rarely
induce toxicity.
Table 2.3
Biological function and toxicity of some trace elements (after McBride 1994)
Biological Function
Mammalian Toxicity
None known in animals. Constituent
Medium - High
of phospholipid in algae and fungi
(5 - 20 ppm)
Essential for animals. Co-factor in
Medium - High
many enzymes. Plays a role in
(15 - 50 ppm)
symbiotic N2 fixation.
Medium - High
Cr6+High while C~+
(5 - 30 ppm)
Essential to all organisms. Co-factor
Medium - High
in redox enzymes, O2 transport
(20 - 100 ppm)
None known in animals. May be
Medium - High
essential to plants. Found in urease
(10 - 100 ppm)
May be involved in sugar metabolism
in mammals
None known
(30 - 300 ppm)
(cumulative poison)
Essential to all organisms. Co-factor
Low - Medium
in numerous enzymes
(100 - 400 ppm)
parenthesIs are concentratIOns ofelement In leaftissue that show tOXICIty
Chapter 2
plants that are neither hIghly sensItive or tolerant.
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Chapter 2
This section is a discussion of the abundance in soils and geochemical behaviour of the trace
elements considered in this study. The following discussion borrows heavily form McBride
(1994) and Alloway (1995).
Mean arsenic concentrations in soils range from 2,2 - 25 ppm worldwide. Arsenic occurs in soils
in the +3 and +5 oxidation state, although -3 and 0 oxidation states are possible in strongly
reduced soils and sediments. Arsenate (+5), as AsOt, represents the oxidized state and occurs
in aerobic soils, while arsenite (+3), which takes forms such as As(OH)3 and AsO/", is stable in
anaerobic soils.
The chemical behaviour of arsenate is similar to that of phosphate in soils as it is likely to be
adsorbed by Fe, Mn and Al oxides, noncrystalline aluminosilicates and, to a lesser extent, layer
silicates. Arsenate adsorbs most effectively at low pH values and has therefore a low mobility in
acid soils with a high clay or oxide content. However, in neutral to alkaline soils, especially ifthe
soils are sodic, As may be mobile in the form of soluble Na arsenate. The oxidation of arsenite
to arsenate is promoted by the presence of microbes and Mn oxides.
Arsenite adsorbs less effectively in alkaline soils than arsenate in acid soils, adsorption being
most effective in soil pH ranging form 7 to 9. If oxic soils are subjected to anaerobic conditions,
both co-precipitated or adsorbed arsenate and arsenite can be released into the soil solution by
the dissolution of Fe and Mn oxides. Desorbed arsenate is then reduced to arsenite which is
eventually converted to insoluble forms, causing As mobility first to increase and then to decrease
if anaerobic conditions are maintained. When soils remain anaerobic for long periods, sulphides,
formed under reducing soil conditions, may co-precipitate As in its lower oxidation state.
Volatile alkylarsene«H3C)3AsO) compounds may also form under these conditions causing, a
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Chapter 2
loss of As to the atmosphere or to air-filled soil pores.
2.7.2 Cobalt
Mean cobalt concentrations in soils range from 1,6 - 21,5 ppm worldwide. Cobalt occurs in soils
in the +2 and +3 oxidation state. C02+ is the dominant form in the soil solution. Cobalt
preferentially associates with Fe and Mn oxides due to sorption and co-precipitation. Cobalt is
strongly sorbed on Mn-oxides where C02+is oxidized to Co H , which results in a low mobility of
Co in oxidized soils. Cobalt is usually found in association with Mn-oxides in soils where Co can
replace Mn in the oxide structure. Under neutral soil conditions cobalt is less mobile than under
acid soil conditions due to increased sorption of Co on oxides, silicate clays and organic matter,
and possibly the precipitation ofCo(OH)2' Under strongly reducing conditions, the precipitation
of Co-sulphides may inhibit mobility.
2.7.3 Chromium
Mean Cr concentrations in soils range from 7 - 221 ppm worldwide. Chromium occurs in soils
in the +3 (chromic) and +6 (chromate) oxidation state. CrH is the dominant form in the soil
solution. The chromic cation is very immobile in soils as it complexes strongly with soil organic
matter and sorbs even at relatively low pH values on oxides and silicate clays. In Fe-oxides, Cr+
can replace Fe in the crystal lattice, and in higher soil pH conditions, Cr(OH)3 precipitates, both
processes reducing mobility. Ifthe soil is not exceedingly acidic, the Cr+ form is very immobile
in soils and thus the insoluble Cr+ form dominates in most soil types, and it generally occurs as
insoluble hydroxides and oxides.
The mobility and bioavailability of the chromate ion (CrOt) in soils is higher, as chromate is less
strongly adsorbed by soil constituents. The chromate ion is very toxic and is stable at higher soil
pH values, but generally most Cr6+is spontaneously reduced to Cr+ under acid soil conditions
in the presence of soil organic matter, as the organic material provides complexing groups which
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Chapter 2
stabilise the chromic form. This reduction occurs more rapidly in acid soils than in alkaline soils.
Mean Cu concentrations in soils range from 6 - 80 ppm worldwide. Copper mainly occurs in soils
as the divalent Cu2+cation, although reduction ofCu2+(cupric) to Cu+ (cuprous) and CUD (metallic
copper) can occur in reducing conditions, particularly when stabilizing halide or sulphide ions
are present.
Copper has a low mobility in reduced soils as the element is chalcophile, and forms insoluble
minerals such as Cu2S and CuS. In oxic soils, Cu2+is also relatively immobile as copper is easily
adsorbed on most colloidal soil material (e.g. Mn-, Fe- and AI-oxides, silicate clays and humus).
Adsorption increases with increasing soil pH. Above a pH of 6, precipitation of malachite or
azurite may occur in soils with a sufficient Cu concentration. Organically bound Cu2+is the least
mobile of all organically bound divalent transition metals. Copper is rated to have a low mobility
in near-neutral soils as the high-affinity of soil colloids for Cu2+ reduces the concentration ofthe
element in the soil solution. In more alkaline soils, the mobility of copper may become significant
due to the formation of soluble complexes of Cu2+ (hydroxy, carbonate and organic matter
complexes) which are adsorbed to allesser degree.
2.7.5 Nickel
Mean Ni concentrations in soils range from 4 - 55 ppm worldwide, The Ne+ oxidation state is
the only stable form of nickel in the soil environment. The Ni 2+ cation is comparable in
geochemical behaviour with Cu2+, except that it is slightly less electronegative than Cu2+.
However, nickel is several times more phytotoxic than Cu. Nickel is the smallest divalent
transition metal cation and fits easily into octahedral sites of silicate clays and co-precipitates
readily into Mn- and Fe-oxides. Nickel also bonds preferentially with soil organic matter and bio­
accumulation ofNi in organic rich soils is pronounced. The mobility ofNi is rated as medium
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Chapter 2
in acid soils but very low in neutral to alkaline soils, as Ni sorption on oxides, noncrystalline
aluminosilicates and clay minerals increases above pH 6. Under reducing soil conditions Ni has
a restricted mobility since Ni2+ is incorporated into sulphides.
Mean Pb concentrations in soils range from 10 - 84 ppm worldwide. Lead exists principally in
the Pb2+ oxidation state in soils. Lead is the least mobile heavy metal in soils, particularly under
reducing or non-acid soil conditions. Lead is a strongly chalcophile element and is very immobile
in reducing soil conditions as lead precipitates as insoluble sulphide compounds. In oxic soils,
Pb solubility decreases with increasing pH, since at higher pH levels, complexation of Pb with
organic matter, sorption ofPb on oxides and clays and precipitation ofPb-carbonate, -hydroxide
or -phosphates, are favoured. Manganese oxides in soils may also oxidize Pb2+ to the even less
soluble Pb4+ ion which will further reduce the mobility of lead in oxic soils. Lead complexes
strongly with soil organic matter and when introduced to soils, will bio-accumulate in organic
rich topsoil. In alkaline soils however, the mobility of lead may be slightly increased due to
formation ofPb-organic or Pb-hydroxy complexes.
2.7.7 Zinc
Mean Zn concentrations in soils range from 17 - 125 ppm worldwide. Zinc exists only in the Zn2+
oxidation state in soils. Zinc is the most mobile and soluble trace metal cation under acidic, oxic
soil conditions, as Zn2+ is held in exchangeable forms on soil organic matter and clays. However,
the mobility of zinc in neutral soils is significantly lower, since sorption on oxides and
aluminosilicates as well as complexation with soil organic matter, lowers the solubility of zinc.
Zinc is not known to co-precipitate into octahedral sites ofoxides and silicates. In alkaline soils,
the mobility ofzinc may increase since soluble Zn-organo and Zn-hydroxy anions may form. But
ifZn is present in sufficient concentration, insoluble Zn-oxide, hydroxide or hydroxycarbonate
precipitates will restrict the mobility ofzinc. In anaerobic soils, the release ofZn2+ from dissolved
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Chapter 2
Fe and Mn oxides may at first increase Zn mobility, but the mobility will finally be restricted by
the precipitation of exceedingly insoluble ZnS.
Soils consist of a heterogeneous mixture of different organic substances, quartz, primary and
secondary alumino-silicate clay minerals, Fe-, Al- and Mn-oxides and other solid components,
as well as variety of soluble substances. The binding mechanisms of trace elements in soils are
many, and vary with the composition ofthe soil, the soil pH and the redox conditions particular
to the soil. The complexity ofpossible reactions, and often unknown reaction kinetics in natural
soil systems, restricts studies oftrace element distribution in the solid soil phase to operationally
defined analytical procedures (Brummer,Gerth & Williams 1986). To assess the reactivity ofthe
species or binding forms of heavy metals in solid materials, different procedures involving
sequential extraction techniques have been developed from the original method proposed by
Tessier, Campbell & Bisson (1979). These techniques assume that the following trace element
species exist in soils: Water soluble (in the soil solution); exchangeable; organically bound;
occluded in iron and manganese oxides; definite compounds (e.g. trace element carbonates,
phosphates, sulphides); and structurally bound in silicates (the residual fraction).
According to Coetzee, Gouws, Pluddemann, Yocoby, Howell and Drijver (1995), sequential
extraction procedures have received adverse critique and controversy in literature over the last
decade. The main reasons being that the techniques are used in a nondiscriminatory way with the
assumptions (i) that the procedures are selective, (ii) that phase exchanges do not occur and (iii)
that matrix effects can be ignored. However various authors have shown that these assumptions
can not generally be made.
The water soluble fraction, together with the exchangeable soil fraction, represents the mobile
portion of trace elements in soils (Brummer et al., 1986). The other fractions are essentially
immobile and the mobilisation of these bound species is controlled by reaction kinetics. The
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Chapter 2
mobile fraction of trace elements in soils represents the bioavailable portion and leaching
techniques such as the 1M NH4N0 3 technique used by Schloemann (1994), therefore result in
extracted ion concentrations that can be correlated with the amount of ions held on charged soil
surfaces (e.g. clays, oxides and humus).
Environmental policies governing air and water quality were developed before soil protection
became an important issue in the European Union. One of the reasons for this may be that the
effects of poor air and water quality are plainly visible, while the effects of soil pollution can
remain unnoticed for a long time. Often the effects of bad or dangerous soil quality become
apparent during changes in land use (Vegter, 1995).
According to Ferguson, Darmendrail, Freier, Jensen, Jensen, Kasamas, Urzelai & Vegter (1998),
most industrialised countries are currently drawing up or revising policies and procedures that
deal with contaminated land. These policies contain screening and guideline values that are used
to assess whether a soil is polluted or not. Screening values are defined as generic values intended
to screen out those sites (or parts thereof) for which risks are too small to warrant more detailed
investigation. These values tend to be based on very pessimistic exposure assumptions andlor
very stringent criteria for maximum tolerable risk. Guideline values are designed to provide
generic guidance to risk assessors on the significance of contaminant concentration in soils or
other media. Debate around the usefulness of both screening and guideline values has centered
around the reliability of the calculated values, the treatment of uncertainty and the relationship
between generic scenarios and real site conditions. The advantages of using generic values are
listed below:
speed and ease of implementation, and similar sites would be handled in a similar way;
useful for initial assessment of significance of contamination;
encourage planners and developers to undertake decontamination/restoration;
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Chapter 2 •
reality of contaminated land made understandable for the lay person;
facilitate environmental audits for industrial/mine sites;
facilitate monitoring/permitting of operational industrial/mine sites;
can be used in performance assessment of soil treatment plants;
imply non-negotiability and reduce local political influences.
Screening values
Steyn, Van der Watt & Claassens (1996) summarised the screening values which apply to South
Africa and some other countries (Table 2.4). These values are used to assess whether a soil is
contaminated and represent the total concentration ofan element in the < 2 mm fraction ofa soil.
Table 2.4 Maximum permissible total soil concentrations of some trace elements used in
legislation or in guidelines for various countries as summarized by Steyn et al.
(1996). All values are in mglkg dry soil for the < 2 mm soil fraction.
South Africa
Australial New
United Kingdom
400 (provisional)
* Permissible concentratIOn for so; I pH 6, 00 ­
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Chapter 2 2.9.2
Guideline values
Examples ofguideline values which comment on the significance ofa contaminant concentration
in soil are shown in Table 2.5.
Table 2.5 Recommended maximum NH4N03 extractable threshold concentration (mg/I) that
should not be exceeded in the soil (from Schloemann (1996), after PIiie13, Turian
& Schweikle 1991).
Impacted soil functions and ranking of concerns
fraction < 2mm)
Pollutant buffer
Pollutant buffer
with regard to
with regard to
h u m a n
a n
m a I
primary concern, C = concern, INV = further investigations needed to assess risk. X = limited soil
functioning only if the maximum concentration is excessively exceeded
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Chapter 2
Pierzynski et al. (1994) define risk as the probability or chance of injury, loss or damage and can
be applied to contaminated soils which represent a risk to humans and other organisms as a result
ofthe concentration of pollutants in soils. According to Ferguson et al. (1998) risk assessment
is an objective way of assessing the impact of polluted soil on human health, ecosystems and the
general environment. Risk assessment usually involves a detailed investigation of all sources,
pathways and receptors of concern at a site. This process is lengthy and costly, and therefore a
tiered approach in investigating a site is followed. The risk assessment procedure is a systematic
approach for estimating the probability that site-specific hazards are realized. Firstly, the
assimilated data and information obtained from site investigations are used to conduct a baseline
risk assessment whereby contaminants of potential concern are detected and the significance of
their presence is established in terms of human health and environmental risk. This process
requires an assessment ofthe site by modelling site specific exposure routes through source-path­
target substantiation and analysis. The results ofa base line risk assessment can be used to decide
on the requirements for monitoring, further investigations or remediation measures, if required.
2.10.1 Exposure assessment
Pierzynski et al. (1994) define exposure assessment as the procedures by which the identity of
the organisms exposed to a soil contaminant is determined. The relative contribution of each
route of exposure to the dose of the recipient is also determined. The dose refers to the amount
of contaminant ingested or inhaled by the receptor organism. Various organisms can receive a
dose in different ways, for example, humans and animals can be dosed via inhalation, by
ingestion or by dermal contact with harmful soil contaminants. Plants on the other hand are dosed
by extracting contaminated soil water, by respiration with contaminated air or by adsorbing
particulate pollutants on the waxy surfaces of leaves. Ferguson et al. (1998) list some of the
routes by which contaminants may be transported as soil, groundwater, surface water, dust,
uptake or adsorption by plants and aerosols. Contaminants may undergo transformation through
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Chapter 2 biological, chemical or physical means when en route to the receptor which may affect its
toxicity, availability or mobility. Various models may be used to model the ultimate dose to a
receptor group and this concentration is used to perform a dose - response analyses in order to
characterise the risk to a receptor. The complexity ofexposure routes that needs to be considered
when performing a risk assessment investigation on a contaminated site, is indicated in
Pollutant .. Soil
t IT
Figure. 2.3 A~;m& A~as1 I..
Plants .. 1 Feed"
routes of
dermal &
Some human exposure pathways to be considered when performing a risk
investigation of a heavy metal contaminated site (after
Pierzynski et ai., 1994).
The uncontrolled release of acid mine drainage (AMD) is perhaps the most serious impact that
mining can have on the environment (Ferguson & Erickson, 1988). In addition to low pH (i.e.
high acidity) acid mine drainage often contains dissolved trace elements in toxic concentrations.
The high acidity of mine drainage arises from the rapid oxidation of sulphide minerals. AMD
may occur anywhere where sulphide minerals are exposed at the earth's surface (e.g. road cuts
or quarries), but metal mines where economically recoverable metals often occur in orebodies
of concentrated metal sulphides (e.g. pyrite, FeS 2 ; chalcopyrite, CuFeS 2 or sphalerite, ZnS) are
the primary source of AMD.
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Page 2.21
Chapter 2
The generation of AMD is controlled by a series of factors that may be categorized as primary,
secondary, tertiary and downstream factors (Ferguson & Erickson, 1988). Primary factors are
those directly involved in the acid production process. Secondary factors control the consumption
or alteration ofthe products ofthe acid generation reactions. The tertiary factors are the physical
aspects of the waste material or mine site that influence the acid production, AMD migration and
consumption. Downstream factors control the precipitation of Fe and other metals in rivers and
streams into which AMD is discharged. These factors control the quality (including trace element
content) of AMD affected water that emanate from a site.
2.11.1 Primary Factors
The reactions of acid generation from sulphide minerals are discussed according to the three­
stage stoichiometric example of pyrite oxidation after James (1997) and Ferguson & Erickson
(1988) in which one mole of pyrite oxidises to form two moles of sulphate and two moles ofH+:
Reaction 2.1, represents the oxidation of pyrite to form dissolved ferrous iron, sulphate and
hydrogen. This reaction can occur abiotically or can be bacterially catalysed by the bacteria
Thiobacillus ferrooxidans and Thiobacillus thiooxidans.
The ferrous iron, (Fe2+) may be oxidised to ferric iron, (Fe3+) if the conditions are sufficiently
oxidising, as illustrated by reaction 2.2. Hydrolysis and precipitation of Fe3+ may also occur,
shown by reaction 2.3. Reactions 2.1,2.2 and 2.3 predominate at pH > 4,5.
Fe2++ 11402 + H+ ... Fe3+ + 1/2H20
Fe3++ 3H O ... Fe(OH)3 (s) +3H+
(2.2) (2.3) Reactions 2.1 to 2.3 are relatively slow and represent the initial stage in the three-stage AMD-
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formation process. Stage 1 will persist as long as the pH surrounding the waste particles is only
moderately acidic (pH> 4,5). A transitional stage 2 occurs as the pH declines and the rate of Fe
hydrolysis (reaction 2.3) slows, providing ferric iron oxidant. Stage 3 consists of rapid acid
production by the ferric iron oxidant pathway and becomes dominant at low pH, where the F e2+
(ferric iron) is more soluble (reaction 4):
Without the catalytic influence of bacteria, the rate of ferrous iron oxidation in an acid medium
would be too slow to provide significant AMD generation. As such, the final stage in the AMD
generation process occurs when the catalytic bacteria has become established. Reactions 2.2 and
2.4 then combine to form the cyclic, rapid oxidation pathway chiefly responsible for the high
contamination loads observed in mining environments.
2.11.2 Limiting factors
Oxygen is an essential reactant in the formation of AMD and determines the oxidation of
sulphide minerals as well as the activity of aerobic autotrophic bacteria. The replenishment of
oxygen within a mining waste from the atmosphere is required to sustain the rapid
bacteriologically catalysed oxidation processes. Significant oxidation may not occur if the oxygen
concentration around the sulphide mineral drops to below 1 to 2 per cent (Ferguson & Erickson,
Water acts as a reactant, a reaction medium and as a product transport medium in the AMD
generation and transport process (Ferguson & Erickson, 1988). Bacterial activity may also be
limited by the availability of water. The different forms of pyrite present different activities that
then affect the rate of the oxidation reaction. Isometric pyrite may not be as reactive as
orthorombic marcasite or hexagonal pyrrhotite.
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Chapter 2 the world's acidic drainage. During AMD, Fe-sulphide minerals generate acid which leads to the
further dissolution of other Fe-sulphides and their associated mineral assemblages. Examples of
chalcophile trace elements associated with common sulphide minerals are presented in Table 2.6.
The various metals released to solution are important contributors to environmental degradation.
Among the elements that are most widely encountered as potentially toxic pollutants occurring
in mine wastes, are Zn, Pb, Cu, Ni, Cd, Hg, Mo, As and occasionally Cr, Co and Se. The potential
threat to the environment by elements is evident in countries like Canada where effluent
discharged from metal mine tailings must comply with regulatory standards: The maximum
monthly mean concentrations (in mg/l) are as follows: As < 0,5; Cu < 0,3; Pb < 0,2; Ni, < 0,5
and Zn < 0,5. The total soluble metal concentration in the effluent must be less than 25 mg/I.
Table 2.6 Common ore minerals ofnon-ferrous metals and their associated trace elements,
compiled by Alloway (1995).
Ore minerals
Associated trace elements
FeAsS, AsS Cu ores
Au, Ag, Sb, Hg, U, Bi, Mo, Sn, Cu
FeCr20 4
Ni, Co
Native Cu, CuFeS 2, CuSFeS4,
Zn, Cd, Pb, As, Se, Sb, Ni, Pt, Mo, Au, Te
Cu2S, Cu3AsS 4, CuS
(Ni,Fe)9S1h NiAs, (Co, Ni)3S4
Co, Cr, As, Pt, Se, Te
Ag, Zn, Cu, Cd, Sb, TI, Se, Te
Cd, Cu, Pb, As, Se, Sb, Ag, Au, In
2.11.7 Environmental affects of gold mine tailings in South Africa
In a study of a number of gold mine tailings dams in the Gauteng province, Marsden (1986)
concluded that tailings dams of 20 years and older, have an oxidised zone where leachable
sulphate (and associated low pH water and other toxic substances) are virtually absent. He
supports this conclusion by the fact that grass and other vegetation grows on many discard
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dumps. Through hand auger and test pitting, the thickness of this zone has been established to
be ± 10m in sand dumps and 2 - 3 m in slimes dams (Marsden 1986).
Blight & du Preez (1997) studied the escape of acid and soluble salt pollution from
decommissioned gold mine tailings dams and confirmed the presence of the oxidised tailings
zone on the surface of slimes dams. The rate of formation of this zone is greater than the rate of
erosion from the dam, and consequently they predict that little pollution enters the environment
as a result of physical redistribution oftailings. However, when erosion guHeys, that cut through
the oxidised zone, develop on the sides of some tailings dams, acid leachate can escape much
easier from the tailings impoundments. Marsden (1986) found that sulphate concentrations in
soils surrounding gold mine tailings deposits, where tailings had been allowed to wash onto
adjacent land, were on average 0,05 per cent (maximum of 0,25 per cent) up to a depth of2,00
Rosner et al. (1998) summarised the results of research on the environmental effects of South
African gold mine tailings. Trace element concentrations in water and sediments were analyzed
in the 1970's and it was found that elevated concentrations of Co, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni and Zn are
present in stream systems affected by AMD (Forstner & Wittmann, 1976). Funke (1985)
concluded that slimes dams contributed approximately 2 per cent of the total salt load entering
the Vaal Barrage system. Marsden (1986) concluded that mine dumps older than 20 years make
no significant contribution to the current pollution load on aquatic systems, as these tailings dams
are often depleted in sulphur bearing minerals in the oxidised zone. Funke (1990) concluded that
the amount of sulphur in mine dumps that still oxidizes at present, is low, particularly when
compared with the pollution load deriving from mine pump age and metallurgical plant operation.
Evans (1990) found trace element pollution caused by AMD generation in a wetland adjacent to
a tailings dam. Walton, Verhagen & Taussig-Duthe (1993) attributed elevated sulphate and
metals (Ni, Cu, Fe) concentrations in both, surface and groundwater systems in the Gauteng
region to AMD from tailings dams. Znatowicz (1993) found high concentrations of toxic metal
(e.g. As, Cd, Ti, V and U) in water and sediment samples downstream from a gold tailings dam.
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Coetzee (1995) detected significant radiometric anomalies in selected drainage systems of the
Gauteng Province and attributed these to AMD from tailings dams. Pulles, Heath & Howard
(1996) stated that seepage released from various waste deposits such as mine dumps was
identified as the most significant pollution source with regard to the deterioration ofwater quality
in Gauteng. Rosner (1996) found significant concentrations of As, Cr, Ni, Pb, V and Zn in the
oxidized zone of a number of gold mine tailings dams in Gauteng.
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