ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE: Forgotten, But Not Gone

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Science  23 May 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5623, pp. 1203a
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5623.1203a

Many of the most contaminated and polluted sites around the world are related to abandoned mines. Water pollution due to acidification, toxic wastes, or both is common. Heavy metals from ore processing are distributed as particles throughout a watershed in such a way that areas downstream can be more heavily contaminated than sites close to the mine. Identifying these areas and understanding how land use or future climate changes might affect watershed sediments is critical.

Coulthard and Macklin present a simulation of how heavy metals have been and may continue to be distributed, focusing on the River Swale in England, an area that has been mined since Roman times. The model includes many aspects of river dynamics, such as channel migration and bank erosion, and accounts for sediment transfer down river networks. The simulations show that metals may accumulate in the downstream floodplain at levels exceeding that of deposits near the mine and that pollutants may persist locally for hundreds of years after mine closure.—BH

Geology 31, 451 (2003).

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