Skip to main content

Geochemical evaluation of bottom sediments affected by historic mining and the rupture of the Fundão dam, Brazil


The rupture of the Fundão dam released about 39 million m3 of tailings into the Rio Doce/Brazil. The sediment load increase in the affected rivers has become a concern. As such, this article provides recent information about the region. In addition, based on past studies in the region, it shows the magnitude and dynamics of the environmental impacts caused by the rupture of the dam on the bottom sediments. Sediment samples in different seasonal periods were collected at eleven sampling stations located along the Gualaxo do Norte River, the first tributary of the Rio Doce affected by the environmental disaster. These sediments underwent physical, chemical, and granulometric analyses for their organic, metal, and semimetal content. The contamination factor and the enrichment factor of the samples also were calculated. To evaluate the anthropogenic contributions to sediment metal concentrations, reference values (regional background values) for the Gualaxo do Norte River were used. The results indicate that, in the sampling stations not affected by the disaster, the concentrations of the metals and semimetals reflect the geology of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero. However, in the area affected by the environmental disaster, there were changes in the chemical and physical properties of the bottom sediment, mainly in the concentrations of iron, organic matter, and fine sediment fractions. This was reflected in the contamination factors and enrichment factors calculated for the sediments of the sampling stations. Iron and manganese concentrations in sediments are much higher than other rivers in the world that are unaffected by mining activities. The observed changes in the bottom sediments of the river suggest a need for constant monitoring of the iron because the iron oxide minerals present in silt and clay have a high adsorption capacity. In the long term, these factors may contribute to the decrease of the quality of these sediments and consequently of the waters and biota present in these environments.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7


  • Basílio MS, Friese K, De Lena JC, Nalini HA, Roeser HMP (2005) Adsorção de As, Cu, Pb e Cr na avaliação da capacidade de fixação de metais por resíduo de mineradoras de ferro. Quim Nova 28:822–828 (in Portuguese)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Borba RP, Figueiredo BR, Cavalcanti JA (2004) Arsênio na água subterrânea em Ouro Preto e Mariana, Quadrilátero Ferrífero (MG). Rem Rev Esc Minas 57:45–51 (in Portuguese)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cabral AR, Lehmann B, Sattler CD, Pires FRM, Kaneko K (2002) Hg–Tl-bearing manganese oxide from Conta História manganese deposit, Quadrilátero Ferrífero, Minas Gerais. Brazil Appl Earth Sci 111:123–127

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Castillo MLA, Trujillo IS, Alonso EV, Torres AG, De Pavón JMC (2013) Bioavailability of heavy metals in water and sediments from a typical Mediterranean Bay (Málaga Bay , Region of Andalucía , Southern Spain ). Mar Pollut Bull 76:427–434

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cosgrove WJ, Loucks DP (2015) Water management: current and future challenges and research directions. Water Resour Res 51:4823–4839

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Costa AT, Nalini HA, De Lena JC, Friese K, Mages M (2003) Surface water quality and sediment geochemistry in the Gualaxo do Norte basin, eastern Quadrilátero Ferrífero, Minas Gerais. Brazil Environ Geol 45:226–235

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • de Souza LA, Sobreira FG, Filho JFP (2005) Cartografia e Diagnóstico Geoambiental Aplicados ao Ordenamento Territorial do Município de Mariana – MG. Rev Bras Cartogr 57:189–203 (in Portuguese)

    Google Scholar 

  • de Vicq R, Matschullat J, Leite MGP, Nalini Junior HA, Mendonça FPC (2015) Iron quadrangle stream sediments Brazil: geochemical maps and reference values. Environ Earth Sci 74:4407–4417

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Donagema GK, de Campos DVB, Calderano SB, Teixeira WG, Viana JHM (2011) Manual de métodos de análise de solo. Embrapa Solos 230 (in Portuguese)

  • dos Reis DA, Fongaro G, da Silva Lanna MC, Dias LCP, Santiago AF (2019) The relationship between human adenovirus and metals and semimetals in the waters of the Rio Doce, Brazil. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 77:144–153

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Duncan AE, de Vries N, Nyarko KB (2018) Assessment of heavy metal pollution in the sediments of the River Pra and its tributaries. Water Air Soil Pollut 229-272:1–10

    Google Scholar 

  • Ekelemu JK, Okoro KO (2018) Original research article evaluation of heavy metal concentrations in subsurface water and bottom sediments of the Lower River Niger in Southern Nigeria. J Food Agric Environ 5:1–6

    Google Scholar 

  • Felippe MF, Magalhães Junior AP, Mendes LC, Cota GEM, Carneiro PS, Gontijo BM (2016) Conexões geo-históricas e contemporâneas entre ocupação territoriaL, degradação ambiental e rarefação hídrica na Bacia do Rio Doce. Rev Geogr 203–222 (in Portuguese)

  • Goldschmidt VM (1938) Geochemische Verteilungsgesetze der Elemente. IX. Die Mengenverhaltnisse der Elemente und der Atom-Arten. Skrifter Norske Videnskaps-Akademi Oslo, I. Mat.-Naturv Klasse.

  • Gopinath A, Nair SM, Kumar NC, Jayalakshmi KV, Pamalal D (2010) A baseline study of trace metals in a coral reef sedimentary environment, Lakshadweep Archipelago. Environ Earth Sci 59:1245–1266

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hatje V, Pedreira RMA, De Rezende CE, Schettini CAF, De Souza GC, Marin DC, Hackspacher PC (2017) The environmental impacts of one of the largest tailing dam failures worldwide. Sci Rep 7:1–13

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hu Y, Liu X, Bai J, Shih K, Zeng EY, Cheng H (2013) Assessing heavy metal pollution in the surface soils of a region that had undergone three decades of intense industrialization and urbanization. Environ Sci Pollut Res 20:6150–6159

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • IBAMA or Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (2015) Laudo Técnico Preliminar. Accessed 15 March 2019 (in Portuguese)

  • Köppen W (1931) Climatologia. Fundo de Cultura Econômica, México

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu H, Liu G, Zhou C, Yuan Z, Da C (2017) Geochemical speciation and ecological risk assessment of heavy metals in surface soils collected from the Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve, China. Hum Ecol Risk: An International Journal 23:1585–1600

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liyanage CP, Yamada K (2017) Impact of population growth on the water quality of natural water bodies. Sustain.

  • Markich SJ, Brown PL, Batley GE, Apte SC, Stauber JL (2001) Incorporating metal speciation and bioavailability into water quality guidelines for protecting aquatic ecosystems. Australas J Ecotoxicol 7:109–122

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Marques LS, Reis DA, Nascimento LP, Oliveira EG, Santiago AF, Roeser HMP (2019) Mobility of metals in river sediments from a watershed in the Iron Quadrangle, Brazil. Geochim Bras 33:273–285

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nascimento LP, Reis DA, Roeser HMP, Santiago AF (2018) Avaliação geoquímica de metais em sistemas fluviais afetados por atividades antrópicas no Quadrilátero Ferrífero. Eng Sanit e Ambient 23:767–778 (in Portuguese)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Peng JF, Song YH, Yuan P, Cui XY, Qiu GL (2009) The remediation of heavy metals contaminated sediment. J Hazard Mater 161:633–640

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pires JMM, Lena JCD, Machado CC, Pereira RS (2003) Potencial poluidor de resíduo sólido da Samarco Mineração: estudo de caso da barragem do Germano. R Árvore 27:393–397 (in Portuguese)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Queiroz HM, Nóbrega GN, Ferreira TO, Almeida LS, Romero TB, Santaella ST, Bernardino AF, Otero XL (2018) The Samarco mine tailing disaster: a possible time-bomb for heavy metals contamination? Sci Total Environ 637:498–506

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rane NT, Matta VM (2019) Impact of past iron ore mining on the sediment cores of rivers of Goa, west-coast of India. Res J Environ Earth Sci 11:1–13

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rauret G, Lopez-Sanchez JF, Luck D, Yli-Halla M, Muntau H, Quevauviller P (2001) The certification of the extractable contents (mass fractions) of Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn in freshwater sediment following sequential extraction procedure-BCR 701.Bruxelles: BCR Information European Commission BCR Information. Reference Materials Report EUR 19775

  • Rodrigues ASL, Malafaia G, Costa AT, Nalini Júnior HA (2013) Background values for chemical elements in sediments of the Gualaxo do Norte River Basin, MG, Brazil. Rev Ciências Ambient 7:15–32

    Google Scholar 

  • Roeser HMP, Roeser PA (2010) O Quadrilátero Ferrífero- MG , Brasil : Aspectos Sobre Sua História, Seus Recursos Minerais e Problemas. Geonomos 18:33–37 (in Portuguese)

    Google Scholar 

  • Rowland R, Inamdar S, Parr T (2017) Evolution of particulate organic matter (POM) along a headwater drainage: role of sources, particle size class, and storm magnitude. Biogeochemistry 133:181–200

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Salomons W, Förstner U (1984) Metals in the hydrocycle. Springer Science & Business Media, New York

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Salomons W, Förstner U (2010) Sediments and the “system”: from site-specific to regional-scale research: a story of joy in researching dirt. J Soils Sediments 10:1436–1439

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Salomons W, de Rooij NM, Kerdijk H, Bril J (1987) Sediments as a source for contaminants? Hydrobiologia 149:13–30

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sánchez LE, Alger K, Alonso L, Barbosa F, Brito MCW, Laureano FV, May P, Roeser HMP, Kakabadse Y (2018) Impacts of the Fundão Dam failure: a pathway to sustainable and resilient mitigation.

  • Santolin CVA, Ciminelli VST, Nascentes CC, Windmöller CC (2015) Distribution and environmental impact evaluation of metals in sediments from the Doce River Basin, Brazil. Environ Earth Sci 74:1235–1248

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scanlon BR, Jolly I, Sophocleous M, Zhang L (2007) Global impacts of conversions from natural to agricultural ecosystems on water resources: quantity versus quality. Water Resour Res 43

  • Segura FR, Nunes EA, Paniz FP, Paulelli ACC, Rodrigues GB, Braga GÚL, Batista BL (2016) Potential risks of the residue from Samarco’s mine dam burst (Bento Rodrigues, Brazil). Environ Pollut 218:813–825

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tank JL, Rosi-Marshall EJ, Griffiths NA, Entrekin SA, Stephe ML (2010) A review of allochthonous organic matter dynamics and metabolism in streams. J North Am Benthol Soc 29:118–146

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Violante A, Cozzolino V, Perelomov L, Caporale AG, Pigna M (2010) Mobility And bioavailability of heavy metals and metalloids in soil environments. J Soil Sci Plant Nutr 10:268–292

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wentworth CK (1922) A scale of grade and class terms for clastic sediments. J Geol 30:377–392

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Xu F, Hu B, Li J, Cui R, Liu Z, Jiang Z, Yin X (2018) Reassessment of heavy metal pollution in riverine sediments of Hainan Island, China: sources and risks. Environ Sci Pollut Res 25:1766–1772

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zhao G, Ye S, Yuan H, Ding X, Wang J (2017) Surface sediment properties and heavy metal pollution assessment in the Pearl River Estuary, China. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24:2966–2979

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zimmerman JB, Mihelcic JR, Smith J (2008) Global stressors on water quality and quantity. Environ Sci Technol 42:4247–4254

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This study was made possible by the support from the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de Minas Gerais (FAPEMIG), the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), for which we are deeply thankful. We also thank the Laboratório de Geoquímica Ambiental at Federal University of Ouro Preto for the ICP analysis, as well as Fundação Gorceix.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Deyse Almeida dos Reis.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Responsible editor: Severine Le Faucheur

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

dos Reis, D.A., Nascimento, L.P., de Abreu, A.T. et al. Geochemical evaluation of bottom sediments affected by historic mining and the rupture of the Fundão dam, Brazil. Environ Sci Pollut Res 27, 4365–4375 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Enrichment factor
  • Environmental disaster
  • Environmental impacts Metals/semimetals
  • Rio Doce