Send to

Choose Destination
Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Feb 1;40(3):752-8.

Element flows associated with marine shore mine tailings deposits.

Author information

Centre d'Analyse Minérale, Institute of Mineralogy and Geochemistry, Bâtiment Humense, University of Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


From 1938 until 1975, flotation tailings from the Potrerillos--El Salvador mining district (porphyry copper deposits) were discharged into the El Salado valley and transported in suspension to the sea at Chaliaral Bay, Atacama Desert, northern Chile. Over 220 Mt of tailings, averaging 0.8 +/- 0.25 wt % of pyrite, were deposited into the bay, resulting in over a 1 kilometer seaward displacement of the shoreline and an estimated 10-15 m thick tailings accumulation covering a approximately 4 km2 surface area. The Chaniaral case was classified by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in 1983 as one of the most serious cases of marine contamination in the Pacific area. Since 1975, the tailings have been exposed to oxidation, resulting in a 70-188 cm thick low-pH (2.6-4) oxidation zone at the top with liberation of divalent metal cations, such as Cu2+, Ni2+, and Zn2+ (up to 2265 mg/L, 18.1 mg/L, and 20.3 mg/ L, respectively). Evaporation-induced transport capillarity led to metal enrichment atthe tailings surface (e.g. up to 2.4% Cu) in the form of secondary chlorides and/or sulfates (dominated by eriochalcite [CuCl.H2O] and halite). These, mainly water-soluble, secondary minerals were exposed to eolian transport in the direction of the Village of Chañaral by the predominant W-SW winds. Two element-flow directions (toward the tailings surface, via capillarity, and toward the sea) and two element groups with different geochemical behaviors (cations such as Cu, Zn, Ni, and oxyanions such as As and Mo) could be distinguished. It can be postulated, that the sea is mainly affected by the following: As, Mo, Cu, and Zn contamination, which were liberated from the oxidation zone from the tailings and mobilized through the tidal cycle, and by Cu and Zn from the subsurface waters flowing in the El Salado valley (up to 19 mg/L and 12 mg/L Zn, respectively), transported as chloro complexes at neutral pH.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for American Chemical Society
Loading ...
Support Center