Contaminants in surface water and sediments near the Tynagh silver mine site, County Galway, Ireland

Antonia O'Neill, Debra Phillips, James Bowen, Bhaskar Sen Gupta  

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

A former silver mine in Tynagh, Co. Galway, Ireland is one of the most contaminated mine sites in Europe with maximum concentrations of Zn, As, Pb, Mn, Ni, Cu, and Cd far exceeding guideline values for water and sediment. The aims of this research were to 1) further assess the contamination, particularly metals, in surface water and sediment around the site, and 2) determine if the contamination has increased 10 years after the Environmental Protection Agency Ireland (EPAI) identified off-site contamination. Site pH is alkaline to neutral because CaCO3-rich sediment and rock material buffer the exposed acid generating sulphide-rich ore. When this study was compared to the previous EPAI study conducted 10 years earlier, it appeared that further weathering of exposed surface sediment had increased concentrations of As and other potentially toxic elements. Water samples from the tailings ponds and adjacent Barnacullia Stream had concentrations of Al, Cd, Mn, Zn and Pb above guideline values. Lead and Zn concentrations from the tailings pond sediment were 16 and 5 times higher, respectively, than concentrations reported 10 years earlier. Pb and Zn levels in most sediment samples exceeded the Expert Group (EGS) guidelines of 1000 and 5000 mg/kg, respectively. Arsenic concentrations were as high as 6238 mg/kg in the tailings ponds sediment, which is 62 and 862 times greater than the EGS and Canadian Soil Quality Guidelines (CSQG), respectively. Cadmium, Cu, Fe, Mn, Pb and Zn concentrations in water and sediment were above guideline values downstream of the site. Additionally, Fe, Mn and organic matter (OM) were strongly correlated and correlated to Zn, Pb, As, Cd, Cu and Ni in stream sediment. Therefore, the nearby Barnacullia Stream is also a significant pathway for contaminant transport to downstream areas. Further rehabilitation of the site may decrease the contamination around the area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-272
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume512-513
Early online date26 Jan 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2015

Keywords

  • Galway Ireland; Lead; Arsenic; Metal contamination; Zinc; Mine spoil; River water; Mine tailings; Mine water

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