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Sediment geochemistry of streams draining abandoned lead/zinc mines in central Wales: the Afon Twymyn

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posted on 13.05.2010, 11:26 by Patrick Byrne, Ian Reid, Paul WoodPaul Wood
Purpose Despite the decline of metal mining in the UK during the early 20th century, a substantial legacy of heavy metal contamination persists in river channel and floodplain sediments. Poor sediment quality is likely to impede the achievement of ‘good’ chemical and ecological status for surface waters under the European Union Water Framework Directive. This paper examines the environmental legacy of the Dylife lead/zinc mine in the central Wales mining district. Leachable heavy metal concentrations in the bed sediments of the Afon Twymyn are established and the geochemical partitioning, potential mobility and bioavailability of sediment-associated heavy metals are established. Materials and methods Sediment samples were collected from the river bed and dry-sieved into two size fractions (<63 and 64–2,000 µm). The fractionated samples were then subjected to a sequential extraction procedure to isolate heavy metals (Pb, Zn, Cu, Cd, Fe, Mn) in three different geochemical phases. Sediment samples were then analysed for heavy metals using Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-AES). Results and discussion The bed sediment of the Afon Twymyn is grossly polluted with heavy metals. Within the vicinity of the former mine, Pb concentrations are up to 100 times greater than levels reported to have deleterious impacts on aquatic ecology. Most heavy metals exist in the most mobile easily exchangeable and carbonate-bound geochemical phases, potentially posing serious threats to ecological integrity and constituting a significant, secondary, diffuse source of pollution. Metal concentrations decrease sharply downstream of the former mine, although there is a gradual increase in the proportion of readily extractable Zn and Cd. Conclusions Implementation of sediment quality guidelines is important in order to achieve the aims of the Water Framework Directive. Assessments of sediment quality should include measurements of background metal concentrations, river water physico-chemistry and, most importantly, metal mobility and potential bioavailability. Uniformity of sediment guidelines throughout Europe and flexibility of targets with regard to the most heavily contaminated mine sites are recommended.



  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment


BYRNE, P., REID, I. and WOOD, P.J., 2010. Sediment geochemistry of streams draining abandoned lead/zinc mines in central Wales: the Afon Twymyn. Journal of Soils and Sediments, 10 (4), pp. 683-697


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