The environmental impact of Aguilar mine on the heavy metal concentrations of the Yacoraite River, Jujuy Province, NW Argentina
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The Yacoraite River and its tributaries run down the eastern slope of the Aguilar Range. It is one of the tributaries of the Rio Grande, located in Quebrada de Humahuaca, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Aguilar underground mine (Pb–Ag–Zn) is located in the upper reaches of the Yacoraite River drainage basin. The aim of this work is to characterize the presence of heavy metals in water and sediments of the Yacoraite River and to identify their sources. The analysis shows the seasonal variation of heavy metals concentration in water and their relation with the World Health Organization (WHO) limits established for human consumption. The Yacoraite basin is naturally anomalous in some metals and some elements, such as As which is controlled by the chemical composition of regional lithology. During the wet season, Al, Co, Mo and Pb concentrations in water samples are higher than during the dry season; in addition, these metals are also higher than WHO limit values. High enrichment factors for Ba, Mo, Pb, Zn and Cd were found in Casa Grande stream, indicating the direct influence of the mining activities. Cd, Pb and Zn are present in the Aguilar ore minerals, such as sphalerite and galena. Sediments collected during the dry season show a drastic increase in the concentration of As, Pb, Ba, Zn, Cd and Mn. The Müller geo-accumulation index in Casa Grande indicates that it is a highly polluted stream. The concentrations of As, Pb, Ba, Zn, Cd are also high in Yacoraite River: Security Quality Guidelines indicates toxicity. A decrease in enrichment factors and geo-accumulation indices observed in sediments indicates the occurrence of precipitation/adsorption processes in the river to restore the equilibrium composition. Strict environmental controls in Aguilar Mine are necessary to avoid the uncontrolled input of toxic metals in Casa Grande stream and Yacoraite River.
KeywordsHeavy metals Yacoraite River Mining activity Pollution Argentina
The authors are grateful to Red Puna social group and to Iñigo Labeaga (Engineer from Engineers Without Borders group) for the fieldwork assistance; to Alejandro Nieva, for his works in sample preparation; and to anonymous reviewers that gave helpful suggestions to improve the manuscript. This work was partially supported by the research council from the Universidad Nacional de Salta (Projects numbers 1674 and 1859). Pedro Depetris improved the English writing on the manuscript.
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