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Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 185, Issue 3, pp 2817–2832 | Cite as

Stormflow hydrochemistry of a river draining an abandoned metal mine: the Afon Twymyn, central Wales

  • Patrick Byrne
  • Ian Reid
  • Paul J Wood
Article

Abstract

Contaminated drainage from metal mines is a serious water-quality problem facing nations that exploit metal mineral resources. Measurements of river hydrochemistry during baseflow are common at mine sites, whilst detailed hydrochemical information regarding stormflow is limited and often confined to a single event. This study investigates the seasonal evolution of stormflow hydrochemistry at an abandoned metal mine in central Wales, UK, and the possible sources and mechanisms of metal release. Significant flushing of metals was observed during stormflow events, resulting in concentrations that severely exceeded water-quality guidelines. The relationship between metal concentrations and river discharge suggests dissolution of efflorescent metal sulphates on the surface of the mine spoil as the principal source of the contamination. High fluxes of Pb during stormflows are linked to extended periods of dry weather prior to storm events that produced water table drawdown and encouraged oxidation of Pb sulphide in the mine spoil. However, some Pb flushing also occurred following wet antecedent conditions. It is suggested that Fe oxide reduction in mine spoil and translatory flows involving metal-rich pore waters results in flushing during wetter periods. Detailed measurements of stormflow hydrochemistry at mine sites are essential for accurate forecasting of long-term trends in metals flux to understand metal sources and mechanisms of release, to assess potential risks to water quality and instream ecology, and to gauge the potential effectiveness of remediation. In order to protect riverine and riparian ecosystems, it is suggested that routine monitoring of stormflows becomes part of catchment management in mining-impacted regions.

Keywords

Metal mine Acid mine drainage Stormflow Hydrochemistry Water quality Toxic metals 

Notes

Acknowledgements

PB gratefully acknowledges the support of a Loughborough University Department of Geography Scholarship which allowed this research to be undertaken. The Environment Agency of England and Wales and the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is gratefully acknowledged for providing precipitation, river discharge and GIS data. The authors would like to thank Stuart Ashby, Barry Kenny, Fengjuan Xiao, Andy Bicket, Jonathan Lewis, Rachel Stubbington and Matt Johnson for their valued assistance with field sampling and laboratory analysis.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Hydrological and Ecosystem Science, Department of GeographyLoughborough UniversityLeicestershireUK
  2. 2.Centre for Sustainable Water Management, Lancaster Environment CentreLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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