, Volume 185, Issue 3, pp 2817-2832
Date: 03 Jul 2012

Stormflow hydrochemistry of a river draining an abandoned metal mine: the Afon Twymyn, central Wales

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Abstract

Contaminated drainage from metal mines is a serious water-quality problem facing nations that exploit metal mineral resources. Measurements of river hydrochemistry during baseflow are common at mine sites, whilst detailed hydrochemical information regarding stormflow is limited and often confined to a single event. This study investigates the seasonal evolution of stormflow hydrochemistry at an abandoned metal mine in central Wales, UK, and the possible sources and mechanisms of metal release. Significant flushing of metals was observed during stormflow events, resulting in concentrations that severely exceeded water-quality guidelines. The relationship between metal concentrations and river discharge suggests dissolution of efflorescent metal sulphates on the surface of the mine spoil as the principal source of the contamination. High fluxes of Pb during stormflows are linked to extended periods of dry weather prior to storm events that produced water table drawdown and encouraged oxidation of Pb sulphide in the mine spoil. However, some Pb flushing also occurred following wet antecedent conditions. It is suggested that Fe oxide reduction in mine spoil and translatory flows involving metal-rich pore waters results in flushing during wetter periods. Detailed measurements of stormflow hydrochemistry at mine sites are essential for accurate forecasting of long-term trends in metals flux to understand metal sources and mechanisms of release, to assess potential risks to water quality and instream ecology, and to gauge the potential effectiveness of remediation. In order to protect riverine and riparian ecosystems, it is suggested that routine monitoring of stormflows becomes part of catchment management in mining-impacted regions.