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Inventory of Aquatic Contaminant flux arising from historical metal mining in England and Wales

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Hugh Potter, Professor Adam Jarvis



The impact of discharges from abandoned metal and ironstone mines has been a much studied form of aquatic pollution in recent decades. Few attempts however, have been made to accurately determine the overall contaminant mass flux arising from abandoned mine sites at scales above catchment level. Such assessments are critical to determine the significance of former mining to national, regional and ultimately global trace metal flux. This paper presents the most comprehensive national survey to date across England and Wales of the total pollution burden discharged at source from abandoned non-coal mine sites. 338 discharges have been identified (from 4923 known abandoned metal mines) and while concurrent flow and contaminant concentration records are only available for around 30% of these, significant quantities of metals (and As) have been quantified to be discharged. A minimum of 193 tonnes of Zn, 18.5 tonnes of Pb, 0.64 tonnes Cd, 19.1 tonnes of Cu, 551 tonnes Fe, 72 tonnes Mn and 5.1 tonnes As are released in water discharges from abandoned non-coal mines to the surface water environment of England and Wales each year. Precautionary extrapolation of mass fluxes based on the frequency distribution of measured concentration and flow data, for discharges with absent data, suggests that the actual total mass flux for these contaminants could be up to 41% higher. The mass flux of Pb released from mines exceeds that of all currently permitted discharges (e.g. active industrial sites and wastewater treatment works) to surface waters across England and Wales, while those of As, Cd and Zn are of a similar magnitude. These data put into context the enduring legacy of historic mining on the water environment, highlighting its significance relative to more highly regulated polluting sites. Comparison of the figures with estimates of global trace metal flux suggests that the national total identified here is significant on a global scale.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mayes WM, Potter HAB, Jarvis AP

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Science of the Total Environment

Year: 2010

Volume: 408

Issue: 17

Pages: 3576-3583

Print publication date: 01/08/2010

Date deposited: 23/06/2010

ISSN (print): 0048-9697

ISSN (electronic): 1879-1026

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.04.021


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Funder referenceFunder name
UK Government Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
Environment Agency (England and Wales)
WQ0601Department for Communities and Local Government (Defra)
SC030136/14Environment Agency