Antimony and arsenic speciation, redox-cycling and contrasting mobility in a mining-impacted river system

Scott G. Johnston*, William W. Bennett, Nicholas Doriean, Kerstin Hockmann, Niloofar Karimian, Edward D. Burton

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The Macleay River in eastern Australia is severely impacted by historic stibnite- and arsenopyrite-rich mine-tailings. We explore the partitioning, speciation, redox-cycling, mineral associations and mobility of antimony and arsenic along >70 km reach of the upper Macleay River. Elevated Sb/As occur throughout the active channel-zone and in floodplain pockets up to the regolith margin, indicating broad dispersal during floods. Sb concentrations in bulk-sediments decay exponentially downstream more efficiently than As, likely reflecting sediment dilution, hydraulic sorting and comparatively greater leaching of (more mobile) Sb(V) species. However, Sb in bulk-sediments becomes proportionally more bio-available downstream. Sb(V) and As(V) species dominate stream fine-grained (<180 μm) bulk-sediments, reflecting oxidative weathering downstream. Increasing poorly-crystalline Fe(III) [Fe(III) HCl] in bulk-sediments also indicates progressive oxidative weathering of Fe(II)-bearing minerals downstream and significant (P < .05) correlations exist between PO 4 - 3-exchangeable As and Sb fractions and Fe(III) HCl. Accumulations of poorly-crystalline Fe(III) precipitates (mainly ferrihydrite/feroxyhyte) occur intermittently in hyporheic-zone seeps and are enriched in As relative to Sb and contain some As(III) and Sb(III) (~30-40%). There is dynamic in-stream redox-cycling of both Sb and As, with localised S-coordinated As and Sb species re-forming in organic-rich, hyporheic sediments subject to contemporary sulfidogenesis. Sb [mainly Sb(V)] is comparatively more mobile in hyporheic and surface waters under oxic conditions, whereas As [mainly As(III)] is more mobile in hyporheic porewaters subject to reducing/sulfidogenic conditions. Repeat water-leaching of bulk-sediments confirms that Sb is proportionally more mobile than As. Mean concentrations of Sb in river water 168 km downstream from the mine are significantly (P < .05) higher than As, while K d data indicate Sb is more strongly partitioned to the aqueous phase than As. Although the (mainly) oxic flow path of this river favours aqueous Sb mobility compared to As, localised redox-driven shifts in speciation of both elements strongly influence their respective mobility and partitioning.

TidsskriftScience of the Total Environment
StatusUdgivet - 25. mar. 2020
Udgivet eksterntJa