A multidisciplinary assessment of the impact of spilled acids on geoecosystems: an overview

  • Sung Pil HyunEmail author
  • Doyun Shin
  • Hee Sun Moon
  • Young-Soo Han
  • Seonjin Ha
  • Yoonho Lee
  • Eunhee Lee
  • Hyun Jung
  • Yu Sik Hwang
Research Article


We developed and applied a multidisciplinary approach to the impact of an accidentally spilled acid on the underlying geomedia and subsurface environment, based on the concept of geoecosystem. We used mineralogical, geochemical, microbiological, and ecotoxicological techniques to identify and assess the multiple aspects involved. First, we constructed a conceptual model for the acid interactions with the underlying subsurface environment by introducing the concept of a geoecosystem—a multicomponent system composed of inorganic, organic, and biological components to describe the subsurface environment. Second, we designed and manufactured a two dimensional cell to visualize acid transport through geomedia. Third, we hypothesized that the acids are neutralized through dissolution of minerals and protonation of functional groups on the surfaces of minerals and organic matter. We tested this hypothesis by conducting batch-type geomedia-acid reaction and surface titration experiments. Fourth, we observed changes in soil microbial communities before and after the acid exposure and neutralization treatment. Fifth, we performed flow-through experiments using columns packed with soil samples pre-contaminated with arsenic to investigate potential longer term, secondary effects of remnant acids on geoecosystems. Finally, we conducted ecotoxicological investigations using various geomedia and observed that suitability of the geoecosystem as a habitat deteriorated to different degrees depending on the respective systems’ acid neutralizing power. We conclude that a holistic understanding of the interactions among the multiple components of geoecosystems and subsequent estimation of the influenced area requires a multidisciplinary approach such as those used in this study. Based on the findings of this study, we propose geoecosystems’ vulnerability defined as the reciprocal of their acid-neutralizing capacity against the moving acid fronts and present this concept as central to a quantitative assessment of the impact of acid spills on geoecosystems. We also inventoried the essential components, factors, and parameters necessary in developing geoecosystems’ acid vulnerability assessment system.


Spilled acids Geoecosystem Multidisciplinary assessment Vulnerability Chemical accidents 



We thank J. Park (KIGAM) and W. Lee (KIT) for their technical support. We thank T. Kim and D. Kwak (Hanbat National University) for their assistant in the column experiments.

Funding information

This work was financially supported by KIGAM’s Basic Research Project (GP2015-023) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral ResourcesDaejeonSouth Korea
  2. 2.University of Science and TechnologyDaejeonSouth Korea
  3. 3.Amore Pacific, Co. Inc.SeoulSouth Korea
  4. 4.Joongang ConsultantSeoulSouth Korea
  5. 5.H-Plus Eco, Ltd.SeoulSouth Korea
  6. 6.Korea Institute of ToxicologyJinjuSouth Korea

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