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Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2017 Sep;24(26):21445-21458. doi: 10.1007/s11356-017-9782-y. Epub 2017 Jul 25.

The chemistry and toxicity of discharge waters from copper mine tailing impoundment in the valley of the Apuseni Mountains in Romania.

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Department of Environmental Medicine, Poznan University of Medical Sciences, Poznań, Poland.
Department of Water Protection, Faculty of Biology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland.
Department of Hydrology and Water Management, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland.
Department of Limnology, University of Gdańsk, Gdańsk, Poland.
Department of Chemistry, Poznan University of Life Sciences, Poznań, Poland.
Department of Environmental Medicine, Poznan University of Medical Sciences, Poznań, Poland.
Department of Analytical Chemistry, Faculty of Chemistry, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland.


Copper mining generates large quantities of waste, tailings, and acid outflows causing long-term environmental impacts and potential threats to human health. Valea Şesei is the largest tailing impoundment in Romania, created by flooding the valley (known as Valea Şesei) of the Metalliferous Mountains (a division of the Apuseni Mountains) with copper mining waste. The present study (i) estimated the total volume of tailings in this area; (ii) screened the concentration of 65 elements (rare earth and platinum group elements, alkali metals and alkali earth metals, transition and post-transition metals and metalloids) and cyanide concentrations in wastewater samples collected from tailing impoundment; (iii) evaluated the toxicity of these water samples using five in vitro bioassays employing human cells isolated from healthy donors and a short-term (1 h) exposure model. The sampled waters were highly acidic (pH 2.1-4.9) and had high electrical conductivity (280-1561 mS cm-1). No cyanides were detected in any sample. Water samples collected from the stream (AMD) inflowing to the tailing impoundment were characterized by the greatest concentrations of alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, transition and post-transition metals, metalloids, rare earth elements, and noble metal group. At other sites, the elemental concentrations were lower but remained high enough to pose a relevant risk. The greatest magnitude of in vitro toxic effects was induced by AMD. Observed alterations included redox imbalance in human neutrophils followed by lipid peroxidation and decreased cell survival, significant aggregation of red blood cells, and increased prothrombin time. The study highlights that Valea Şesei is a large sink for toxic elements, posing environmental and health risks, and requiring action to prevent further release of chemicals and to initiate restoration of the area.


Copper mining; Elemental composition; Health risks; In vitro toxicity; Tailings

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