Geochemical Characterization and Trace-Element Mobility Assessment for Metallic Mine Reclamation in Soils Affected by Mine Activities in the Iberian Pyrite Belt

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The geochemical characterization of the mine deposits and soils in metal mining areas is essential in order to develop an effective mine reclamation strategy. The determination of total potentially toxic element (PTE) content, together with the application of chemical extraction procedures, can give insight into the behavior of contaminants after the application of different mine reclamation solutions, as well as identify the areas where urgent action is needed. This work presents a practical application to the evaluation of the pollution potential of trace elements in soils affected by mining activities, to be used in metallic mine reclamation. The PTE behavior was assessed by single extractions in order to simulate four environmental conditions: PTE mobility under rainfall conditions, acid mine drainage, reducing conditions, and plant uptake. The spatial distribution of contaminants in the study area was evaluated by determination of PTE total content in soil samples. Trace elements with high natural mobility, such as Zn, appeared concentrated at water and sediment discharge areas, while As, Pb, and Cu contents were higher near the mine wastes. The results obtained after the extractions suggested that the highest PTE content was extracted in the complexing–reducing medium, due to the dissolution of secondary sulfates and Fe3+ oxyhydroxides and the subsequent release of PTEs associated with those mineral phases. Reclamation strategies applied in the study area should promote efficient water drainage, infiltration, and subsuperficial water circulation in order to maintain oxidant conditions in the soil. The methodology applied in this study may constitute a valuable tool to define the geochemical constraints in metal mining areas, as well as help to develop appropriate mine reclamation solutions.