Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 36, pp 36702–36711 | Cite as

Spatial distribution and environmental implications of heavy metals in typical lead (Pb)-zinc (Zn) mine tailings impoundments in Guangdong Province, South China

  • Tao Chen
  • Chang Lei
  • Bo YanEmail author
  • Li-li Li
  • Da-mao Xu
  • Guang-Guo Ying
Research Article


Heavy metal pollution from mining tailings has become a serious concern in China. Here, we quantitatively evaluated the accumulation status and environmental risk of the tailings impoundments located in a typical Pb-Zn mining area in Guangdong Province, South China. The distributional characteristics of the heavy metals in the tailings impoundment area were analyzed. The results showed that the spatial distributions of the heavy metals contained in the tailings were dependent on the geochemical characteristics of the mine tailings rather than on their diversified profile depths. Furthermore, the risk assessment of the heavy metal pollution in the soils surrounding the tailings impoundment showed that the comprehensive Nemerow pollution index (NPI) of the tested surface soil samples was higher than 3.0; thus, these values were much greater than those of the deep soil. Meanwhile, multivariate statistical analysis revealed that the heavy metals contained in the surrounding soils, such as Pb, Zn, Cu, Cd, As, and Tl, experienced similar geochemical processes. The analysis of drainage water samples indicated that surface runoff from the tailings impoundment was the main route for the migration of heavy metals. Moreover, the alkaline substances would be consumed by the acid that is continuously generated in the tailings pond, and this increases the risk of heavy metals migrating from the tailings impoundment area. Lastly, resource analysis and process mineralogy analysis showed that the tailings had a high recovery value, and the recovery of tailings would completely eliminate the environmental risks posed by the tailings.


Heavy metals Environmental implications Spatial distribution Mine tailings impoundments 


Funding information

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China Youth Fund (No. 41503116), the Guangdong Te Zhi Program Youth Science and Technology Talent Project (No. 2014TQ01Z262), Guangzhou Science and Technology Program (No. 201607020003), Guangdong Provincial Science and Technology Program (Nos. 2014B090901040, 2015B020237003), and Guangdong Natural Science Foundation (No. 2017A03031D05).

Supplementary material

11356_2018_3493_MOESM1_ESM.doc (436 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 436 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tao Chen
    • 1
  • Chang Lei
    • 2
  • Bo Yan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Li-li Li
    • 3
  • Da-mao Xu
    • 3
  • Guang-Guo Ying
    • 1
  1. 1.The Environmental Research Institute, MOE Key Laboratory of Theoretical Chemistry of EnvironmentSouth China Normal UniversityGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.College of Chemistry and Environmental EngineeringShaoguan UniversityShaoguanChina
  3. 3.State Key Laboratory of Organic GeochemistryGuangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China

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