Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 1331–1348 | Cite as

Heavy metal content and toxicity of mine and quarry soils

  • Manoel Lago-Vila
  • Andrés Rodríguez-Seijo
  • Daniel Arenas-Lago
  • Luisa Andrade
  • Maria Flora Alonso Vega
Phytoremediation of Polluted Soils: Recent Progress and Developments



Soils formed in metallic mines and serpentinite quarries, among other unfavourable features, have high levels of heavy metals. They can release into the environment causing surface and subsurface water contamination, uptake by plants, their accumulation in the food chain and adverse effects on living organisms. In this work, we studied the magnitude of the soils’ toxic effects not only on spontaneous plants but also on two species with phytoremediation potential.

Materials and methods

Several soils from two different exploitations were selected: a lead and zinc mine and a serpentinite quarry. Soils were characterized, and the pseudo-total and extractable contents of Co, Cr and Ni in soils from a serpentinite quarry were determined. The Cd, Pb and Zn pseudo-total and extractable contents were determined in soils developed in the Pb/Zn abandoned mine. Using a biotest, the chronic toxicity of the soil samples on higher plants was determined. Festuca ovina L., Cytisus scoparius (L.) Link., Sinapis alba L. and Brassica juncea L. were selected, the first two because they are spontaneous plants in the study areas and the last two because they have heavy metal phytoremediation potential.

Results and discussion

Pseudo-total contents of Co, Cr and Ni in the serpentinite quarry soils and of Zn, Pb and Cd in the Zn/Pb mine soils exceed generic reference levels. CaCl2 is the reactant that extracts the highest proportion of Co, Cr and Ni in the quarry soils and EDTA the largest proportion of Pb Zn and Cd content in the mine soils. The germination index values based on seed germination and root elongation bioassays revealed increasing plant sensitivity to the mine soils in the following order: B. juncea < S. alba < F. ovina < C. scoparius. The wide range of GI values indicates that the response of test plants to soil heavy metals depended on their concentrations and soil characteristics, especially pH and organic matter content.


The pollution index indicates severe Cd, Pb and Zn contamination in the mine soils, as well as high Cr and Ni and moderate Co contamination in the serpentinite quarry soils. The performed biotests were suitable for identifying toxic soils and showed that the studied soils are toxic to the spontaneous plants, more to C. scoparius than to F. ovina. They also indicate that the mine soils are more toxic than the quarry soils for both species.


Brassicaceae Heavy metals Mine and quarry soils Pollution index Soil toxicity Spontaneous plants 



We would like to thank the Xunta de Galicia for financing the project EM2013/018. F.A. Vega is hired under a Ramón y Cajal contract at the University of Vigo. A. Rodríguez-Seijo thanks the University of Vigo for his pre-doctoral fellowship. D. Arenas-Lago is grateful to the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and the University of Vigo for the FPI-MICINN.

Compliance with ethical standards

We confirm that the manuscript has been read and approved by all named authors and that there are no other persons who satisfied the criteria for authorship but are not listed. This research does not involve human participants and/or animals.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Manoel Lago-Vila
    • 1
  • Andrés Rodríguez-Seijo
    • 1
  • Daniel Arenas-Lago
    • 1
  • Luisa Andrade
    • 1
  • Maria Flora Alonso Vega
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant and Soil ScienceUniversidad de Vigo, As LagoasMarcosendeSpain

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