Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 182, Issue 1, pp 245-261

First online:

Distribution and Mobility of Trace Elements in Soils and Vegetation Around the Mining and Smelting Areas of Tharsis, Ríotinto and Huelva, Iberian Pyrite Belt, SW Spain

  • E. I. B. ChopinAffiliated withSchool of Human and Environmental Sciences, University of ReadingGEGENA-Centre de Recherche en Environnement et Agronomie Email author 
  • , B. J. AllowayAffiliated withSchool of Human and Environmental Sciences, University of Reading

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Trace elements may present an environmental hazard in the vicinity of mining and smelting activities. However, the factors controlling their distribution and transfer within the soil and vegetation systems are not always well defined. Total concentrations of up to 15,195 mg . kg –1 As, 6,690 mg . kg–1 Cu, 24,820 mg . kg–1 Pb and 9,810 mg . kg–1 Zn in soils, and 62 mg . kg–1 As, 1,765 mg . kg–1 Cu, 280 mg . kg–1 Pb and 3,460 mg . kg –1 Zn in vegetation were measured. However, unusually for smelters and mines of a similar size, the elevated trace element concentrations in soils were found to be restricted to the immediate vicinity of the mines and smelters (maximum 2–3 km). Parent material, prevailing wind direction, and soil physical and chemical characteristics were found to correlate poorly with the restricted trace element distributions in soils. Hypotheses are given for this unusual distribution: (1) the contaminated soils were removed by erosion or (2) mines and smelters released large heavy particles that could not have been transported long distances. Analyses of the accumulation of trace elements in vegetation (median ratios: As 0.06, Cu 0.19, Pb 0.54 and Zn 1.07) and the percentage of total trace elements being DTPA extractable in soils (median percentages: As 0.06%, Cu 15%, Pb 7% and Zn 4%) indicated higher relative trace element mobility in soils with low total concentrations than in soils with elevated concentrations.


accumulation ratio background concentrations Cistus ladanifer contamination extent DTPA extraction Plantago coronopus soil trace elements transfer