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Contamination of water and soil by the Erdenet copper–molybdenum mine in Mongolia


As one of the largest copper–molybdenum (Cu–Mo) mines in the world, the Erdenet Mine in Mongolia has been active since 1978 and is expected to continue operations for at least another 30 years. In this study, the potential impacts of mining activities on the soil and water environments have been evaluated. Water samples showed high concentrations of sulfate, calcium, magnesium, Mo, and arsenic, and high pH values in the order of high to low as follows: tailing water > Khangal River > groundwater. Statistical analysis and the δ2H and δ18O values of water samples indicate that the tailing water directly affects the stream water and indirectly affects groundwater through recharge processes. Soil and stream sediments are highly contaminated with Cu and Mo, which are major elements of ore minerals. Based on the contamination factor (CF), the pollution load index (PLI), and the degree of contamination (Cd), soil appears to be less contaminated than stream sediments. The soil particle size is similar to that of tailing materials, but stream sediments have much coarser particles, implying that the materials have different origins. Contamination levels in stream sediments display a tendency to decrease with distance from the mine, but no such changes are found in soil. Consequently, soil contamination by metals is attributable to wind-blown dusts from the tailing materials, and stream sediment contamination is caused by discharges from uncontained subgrade ore stock materials. Considering the evident impact on the soil and water environment, and the human health risk from the Erdenet Mine, measures to mitigate its environmental impact should be taken immediately including source control, the establishment of a systematic and continuous monitoring system, and a comprehensive risk assessment.

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This research was supported by the 2011 Techno Peace Corps (TPC) project of the Korea Research Foundation. Authors are thankful to the Erdenet Mining Corp. engineers for their cooperation with the fieldwork and anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.

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Correspondence to Nam Woo.



See Table 3.

Table 3 The texture of soil, stream sediment, and tailing samples

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Battogtokh, B., Lee, J.M. & Woo, N. Contamination of water and soil by the Erdenet copper–molybdenum mine in Mongolia. Environ Earth Sci 71, 3363–3374 (2014).

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  • Mining impact
  • Pollution index
  • Contamination sources
  • Tailings impact
  • Erdenet mine