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Speciation and mobility of heavy metals in mud in coastal reclamation areas in Shenzhen, China


Coastal reclamation has been carried out along the coastal areas near Shenzhen, China in a large scale since 1980s by dumping fill materials over the marine mud at the sea bottom. Usually the area to be reclaimed is drained first and some of the mud is air-dried for a few weeks before it is buried by fill. After reclamation, the terrestrial groundwater, which is relatively acidic and with high dissolved oxygen, gradually displaces the seawater, which is alkaline with high salinity. The changes in the burial conditions of mud and the properties of the pore water in the mud may induce the release of some heavy metals into the mud. Field survey confirms that the pH and salinity of the groundwater in the reclamation site are much lower than the seawater. Chemical analyses of mud and groundwater samples collected from the reclamation sites reclaimed in different years indicate that most of the heavy metals in the mud decrease gradually with time, but the heavy metals in the groundwater are increased. The release of heavy metals into pore water due to reactivation of heavy metals in the mud is of environmental concern. To understand why some of the heavy metals can be released from the mud more easily than others, a sequential extraction method was used to study the operationally determined chemical forms of five heavy metals (Cu, Ni, Pb, Zn, and Cd) in the mud samples. Heavy metals can be presented in five chemical forms: exchangeable, carbonate, Fe–Mn oxide, organic, and residual. Ni and Pb were mainly associated with the Fe–Mn oxide fraction and carbonate fraction; Zn was mainly associated with organic fraction and Fe–Mn oxide fraction, while Cu and Cd were associated with organic fraction and carbonate fraction, respectively. If the residual fraction can be considered as an inert phase of the metal that cannot be mobilized, it is the other four forms of heavy metal that cause the noticeable changes in the concentration of heavy metals in the mud. On the basis of the speciation of heavy metals, the mobility of metals have the following order: Pb (36.63%) > Cu (31.11%) > Zn (20.49%) > Ni (18.37%) > Cd (13.46%). The measured metal mobility fits reasonably well with the degree of concentration reduction of the metals with time of burial observed in the reclamation site.

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The study was partially supported by the “Two Bases” Project of National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKU 7105/02P). We appreciate the help and assistance of Miss Lin Qian, Miss Genlan Yang and Miss Simin Xu in preparing the experiments and operating AAS.

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Correspondence to Jianmin Huang.

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Huang, J., Huang, R., Jiao, J.J. et al. Speciation and mobility of heavy metals in mud in coastal reclamation areas in Shenzhen, China. Environ Geol 53, 221–228 (2007).

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  • Land reclamation
  • Mud
  • Heavy metals
  • Speciation
  • Sequential extraction
  • Mobility