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Trace element contaminants associated with historic gold mining in sediments of dams and pans across Benoni, South Africa

Abstract

As a historic gold mining area, the City of Benoni has numerous water bodies close to major tailings dams and mine dumps. Here we assess spatial patterns in the sediment geochemistry of five dams and four natural pans within a 5-km radius of the core mining area to determine the degree of contamination7 by mining-associated pollutants. XRF analysis was used with a geoaccumulation index to assess the degree of contamination above background levels. Prevailing winds blow from the north and north-west with less dominant winds from the east. Sediment concentrations of As, Cu, Pb, Ni and Zn are highly correlated across the region, suggestive of a common source. Except for one pan showing evidence of local industrial pollution, the most contaminated sites are the dams to the west of the mine dumps where concentrations of As, Cu, Pb and Zn increase towards the central mining area, with highest trace metal concentrations in Kleinfontein Dam, adjacent to a reworked mine dump. Sites upwind of the central mining area showed little evidence of mining-related contamination. Trace contaminant concentrations in sediments of these dams are much greater than those found in the nearby Springs-Blesbokspruit wetlands adjacent to more recently active mines. The potential risks to aquatic ecosystems and recreational users of these urban and suburban water bodies from these wind-blown, legacy mining contaminants merit further investigation.

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Data availability

All raw data is included in appendices and supplementary information.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the Geoscience Lab at the University of the Witwatersrand for the sediment analysis. I would also like to thank Jane Trembath and the Korsmans Conservancy for allowing access to Korsmans Pan during the study period. Great thanks to the South African Weather service for providing their 20 years’ weather data from the OR Tambo Airport weather station.

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The authors co-conceived the study for the MSc dissertation of DM du Plessis. Sampling was coordinated by DM du Plessis with sampling assistance from CJ Curtis. DM du Plessis drafted the manuscript with conceptual and editorial input from CJ Curtis.

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Correspondence to D. M. du Plessis.

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Appendices

Appendix 1

Table 6 Pollutant concentrations in each sample from each site across the Benoni region (all measured in ppm)

Appendix 2

Table 7 Correlation matrix (Pearson's r) for average concentrations in all sites (values in italics are different from 0 with a significance level alpha = 0.05)
Table 8 Correlation matrix (Pearson's r) for average concentrations in all sites classified as pans, excluding Amata Pan (values in italics are different from 0 with a significance level alpha = 0.05)
Table 9 Correlation matrix (Pearson's r) for average concentrations in all sites classified as dams (values in italics are different from 0 with a significance level alpha = 0.05)

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du Plessis, D.M., Curtis, C.J. Trace element contaminants associated with historic gold mining in sediments of dams and pans across Benoni, South Africa. Environ Monit Assess 193, 122 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-021-08854-0

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