Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 1267–1278 | Cite as

Arsenic and metals mobility in soils impacted by tailings at Zimapán, México

  • María Aurora ArmientaEmail author
  • Violeta Mugica
  • Isabel Reséndiz
  • Mirella Gutierrez Arzaluz
Soil Pollution and Remediation



Mining wastes may cause important environmental impacts in soil, water, and air due to their high metals and arsenic contents. The aim of this work was the assessment of the mobility of arsenic and several heavy metals in soils located near different types of tailing heaps in the town of Zimapán, México.

Materials and methods

One hundred twenty soil samples were collected nearby to three tailing heaps, one oxidized presenting a red color (RT), and two with gray wastes (OSM and NSM) but with different age, during the dry and rainy seasons at the surface and to 40 cm depth, as well as to different distances from the deposits. Arsenic, Cd, Cu, Fe, Mn, Pb, V, and Zn total concentrations were determined; in addition, geochemical phase distribution of As, Cu, Mn, and Zn in selected samples was determined by sequential extraction. Concentrations were measured by graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry and inductively coupled plasma. To interpret the results, statistical analyses were performed.

Results and discussion

All samples presented high As concentrations reaching more than 50,000 mg kg−1 close to OSM tailings, although the highest concentrations in the available fractions were measured in NSM impacted soils. Arsenic and metals concentrations exceeded the screening limits recommended for industrial sites. In samples influenced by OSM tailings, most of the elements analyzed were in the residual fraction, whereas in NSM and RT they were mostly in the organic and sulfide fractions and in the Fe and Mn oxides fractions, respectively. Larger concentrations of As and metals than those allowed by the screening values in Canada and the Netherlands were measured in the residential area representing a health threat for the inhabitants and the environment.


Acid mine drainage, water, and wind erosion of tailings have polluted nearby soils. Higher concentrations of As and metals were measured during the rainy season in gray tailings impacted soils and during the dry season in red tailings, showing both deposit types’ different mobility. Elements fractionation in soils depends mainly on tailings characteristics. Low metals and As proportions were found in the fraction with the highest mobility. Metals and arsenic are more stable in soils impacted by gray tailings, mainly in the organic and sulfides and residual fractions, while in RT, most are linked to Fe and Mn oxyhydroxides. Polluted soils in residential areas constitute a health hazard. Remedial actions must be taken to stop the population exposure.


México Mining wastes Sequential extraction Soil pollution 



The authors acknowledge A. Aguayo, N. Ceniceros, and O. Cruz for their participation in arsenic determinations, and to Adolfo Hernández for drawing the maps. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for valuable suggestions that greatly improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • María Aurora Armienta
    • 1
    Email author
  • Violeta Mugica
    • 2
  • Isabel Reséndiz
    • 3
  • Mirella Gutierrez Arzaluz
    • 2
  1. 1.Instituto de GeofísicaUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMéxicoMéxico
  2. 2.Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, AzcapotzalcoMexicoMéxico
  3. 3.Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT)MéxicoMéxico

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