Environmental risk of severely Pb-contaminated riverbank sediment as a consequence of hydrometeorological perturbation

Sarah Lynch, Lesley Batty, Patrick Byrne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
293 Downloads (Pure)


Metal mining activities have resulted in the widespread metal pollution of soils and sediments and are a worldwide health concern. Pb is often prolific in metal-mining impacted systems and has acute and chronic toxic effects. Environmental factors controlling diffuse pollution from contaminated riverbank sediment are currently seen as a “black box” from a process perspective. This limits our ability to accurately predict and model releases of dissolved Pb. Previous work by the authors uncovered key mechanisms responsible for the mobilisation of dissolved Zn. The current study identifies key mechanisms controlling the mobilisation of dissolved Pb, and the environmental risk these releases pose, in response to various sequences of “riverbank” inundation/drainage. Mesocosm experiments designed to mimic the riverbank environment were run using sediment severely contaminated with Pb, from a mining-impacted site. Results indicated that, although Pb is generally reported as less mobile than Zn, high concentrations of dissolved Pb are released in response to longer or more frequent flood events. Furthermore, the geochemical mechanisms of release for Zn and Pb were different. For Zn, mechanisms were related to reductive dissolution of Mn (hydr)oxides with higher concentrations released, at depth, over prolonged flood periods. For Pb, key mechanisms of release were related to the solubility of anglesite and the oxidation of primary mineral galena, where periodic drainage events serve to keep sediments oxic, particularly at the surface. The results are concerning because climate projections for the UK indicate a rise in the occurrence of localized heavy rainfall events that could increase flood frequency and/or duration. This study is unique in that it is the first to uncover key mechanisms responsible for dissolved Pb mobilisation from riverbank sediments. The mineralogy at the mining-impacted site is common to many sites worldwide and it is likely the mechanisms identified in this study are widespread.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1428-1441
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date5 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2018


  • Mining
  • Pollution
  • Pb
  • Diffuse pollution
  • metal
  • contamination
  • sediment
  • riverbank


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