Date: 01 Dec 2007

Phytoremediation of mine tailings in temperate and arid environments

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Abstract

Phytoremediation is an emerging technology for the remediation of mine tailings, a global problem for which conventional remediation technologies are costly. There are two approaches to phytoremediation of mine tailings, phytoextraction and phytostabilization. Phytoextraction involves translocation of heavy metals from mine tailings to the plant shoot biomass followed by plant harvest, while phytostabilization focuses on establishing a vegetative cap that does not shoot accumulate metals but rather immobilizes metals within the tailings. Phytoextraction is currently limited by low rates of metal removal which is a combination of low biomass production and insufficiently high metal uptake into plant tissue. Phytostabilization is currently limited by a lack of knowledge of the minimum amendments required (e.g., compost, irrigation) to support long-term plant establishment. This review addresses both strategies within the context of two specific climate types: temperate and arid. In temperate environments, mine tailings are a source of metal leachates and acid mine drainage that contaminate nearby waterways. Mine tailings in arid regions are subject to eolian dispersion and water erosion. Examples of phytoremediation within each of these environments are discussed. Current research suggests that phytoextraction, due to high implementation costs and long time frames, will be limited to sites that have high land values and for which metal removal is required. Phytostabilization, due to lower costs and easier implementation, will be a more commonly used approach. Complete restoration of mining sites is an unlikely outcome for either approach.