Effects of sewage sludge on pH and plant availability of metals in oxidising sulphide mine tailings.Sci Total Environ. 2006 Apr 01; 358(1-3):21-35.ST
A field study was conducted adjacent to the tailings deposit of the Aitik copper mine in the north of Sweden to investigate the effects of sewage sludge on pH and plant availability of Al, Mn, Cu, Zn, Ni, Pb, As, Cr and Cd in the oxidising sulphide tailings. One treatment was supplied with sewage sludge, while the control received NPK-fertiliser. The tailings samples were collected at the beginning and the end of the growing season and extracted by NH(4)NO(3), NH(4)Ac-EDTA and HNO(3). Plant tissue concentrations of the elements were determined in the above-ground parts of barley (Hordeum vulgare) and red fescue (Festuca rubra). The application of sewage sludge resulted in higher crop yields compared to the control, although the buffering capacity and the metal immobilising effect of the sludge were limited. The pH decreased from 6.6 to 4.3 in the control and from 6.4 to 4.8 in the sludge-treated tailings during the growing season, probably due to sulphide oxidation in the tailings. This resulted in increased levels of soluble elements in all treatments studied. Application of sewage sludge resulted in elevated levels of soluble Zn and lower values of soluble As and Cd in the unaltered tailings but increased levels of specifically adsorbed Cu, Ni and As in the oxidised tailings. This was partly reflected in the plants, as the application of sewage sludge resulted in 67 mg Zn kg(-1) in barley grains and 60 mg Zn kg(-1) in red fescue shoots, both values twice as high as the corresponding values in the control, but lower As contents in both straw (0.3 mg kg(-1)) and grain (0.06 mg kg(-1)) of barley compared to the control (0.6 and 0.2 mg kg(-1), respectively). In addition, red fescue grown in sludge-treated plots contained significantly higher levels of Al, Cu, Pb, As and Cr compared to the control. The levels of several metals in barley and red fescue grown in both treatments exceeded background values found in the literature. The Cu content in barley straw exceeded 100 mg kg(-1) in both treatments and might be toxic to grazing animals. Thus, this study suggests that adding sewage sludge to the mine tailings at Aitik would not counteract the effects of the sulphide oxidation in the tailings. Furthermore, using a sequential extraction technique proved preferable to using total metal analysis in order to predict plant uptake of the elements in the tailings.