Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 229–241 | Cite as

Metal fractionation of cadmium, lead and arsenic of geogenic origin in topsoils from the Marrancos gold mineralisation, northern Portugal

  • A. P. Reis
  • C. Patinha
  • E. Ferreira da Silva
  • A. J. Sousa
Original Paper


The Marrancos gold mineralisation has a chemical assemblage of Fe–As–Se–Bi–Au–Ag–Te–(Cu–Pb–Zn–Sn–W). The −200 mesh of 144 topsoil samples was analysed by ICP–MS to determine total contents of 53 elements that include potentially harmful elements like Cd, As and Pb. The soil geochemistry shows that some trace elements occur in considerably high concentrations. On the basis of data for total metal concentrations, 10 topsoil samples were selected to carry out a metal fractionation study using a selective extraction method. A set of four leaches of increasing strength was used sequentially in the soil samples. Across the study area, there is some evidence of past mining and exploration activity, indicating that these soils may be locally disturbed. The shallow mineralised quartz veins were exploited for gold by the Romans. Several galleries were constructed during the 2nd World War, probably for the exploration of quartz–cassiterite–wolframite veins. However, the main mineralised body in depth was never explored. The results of metal fractionation show different partitions for the three elements. Total Cd concentrations in these soils are low, with a median value of 0.1 mg/kg. In average, 12% of total Cd is adsorbed by clays and/or co-precipitated with carbonates, and 19% is bounded to Fe–Mn oxyhydroxides. However, the low concentrations indicate that the metal does not represent an immediate risk to human health. For Pb, metal fractionation shows that, on average, 22% of Pb is adsorbed by amorphous Fe and Mn oxides, but the samples from the northern part of the area have the major fractions of Pb in soluble forms. The low probability of exposure in this part of the study area decreases the risk posed by this heavy metal. Total As concentrations in the Marrancos soils are extremely high. A large area has As concentrations above 1,000 mg/kg. For As, metal fractions in the sulphide phase vary between 84 and 98% in the studied samples. But one sample has 20% of total As in easily reducible forms, corresponding to a partial concentration of 1,800 mg/kg that has a high probability of being bioavailable. The most labile As forms occur at the southern part of the area, where the probability of exposure is higher and the risk of human health increases in the same order. From the three studied potentially harmful elements, As is certainly the element of concern.


Metal fractionation Selective extractions Potentially harmful elements Topsoil Gold mineralisation 



The authors wish to acknowledge the Foundation for the Science and the Technology (FCT) to financially support the project ‘LIVAU—Looking for the invisible gold, PDCT/ECM/58216/2004’. The authors also want to express their gratitude to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that significantly improved this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. P. Reis
    • 1
  • C. Patinha
    • 1
  • E. Ferreira da Silva
    • 1
  • A. J. Sousa
    • 2
  1. 1.GEOBIOTEC, University of AveiroAveiroPortugal
  2. 2.CERENA, Technical Superior InstituteLisbonPortugal

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