The present study focuses on the eolian dispersion and dust deposition, of major and trace elements in soils in a semi-arid climate, around an old fluorite (CaF2) and barite (BaSO4) mine, located in Hammam Zriba in Northern Tunisia. Ore deposits from this site contain a high amount of metal sulphides constituting heavy metal pollution in the surrounding environment.
Samples of waste from the surface of mine tailings and agricultural topsoil samples in the vicinity of the mine were collected. The soil samples and a control sample from unpolluted area, were taken in the direction of prevailing northwest and west winds. Chemical analysis of these solids was performed using both X-ray fluorescence and X-ray diffraction. To determine the transfer from mine wastes to the soils, soluble fraction was performed by inductively coupled plasma and ionic chromatography.
The fine grained size fraction of the un-restored tailings, still contained significant levels of barium, strontium, sulphur, fluorine, zinc and lead with mean percentages (wt%) of 30 (calculated as BaO), 13 (as SrO), 10 (as SO3), 4 (F), 2 (Zn) and 1.2 (Pb). Also, high concentrations of cadmium (Cd), arsenic (As) and mercury (Hg) were found with an averages of 36, 24 and 1.2 mg kg−1, respectively. As a result of the eolian erosion of the tailings and their subsequent wind transport, the concentrations of Ba, Sr, S, F, Zn and Pb were extremely high in the soils near to the tailings dumps, with 5%, 4%, 7%, 1%, 0.8% and 0.2%, respectively. Concentration of major pollutants decreases with distance, but they were high even in the farthest samples. Same spatial distribution was observed for Cd, As and Hg. While, the other elements follow different spatial patterns.
The leaching test revealed that most elements in the mining wastes, except for the anions, had a low solubility despite their high bulk concentrations. According the 2003/33/CE Decision Threshold, some of these tailings samples were considered as hazardous. Furthermore, other waste samples, considered non hazardous, were not inert. In contrast, the SO42-, Ba, Pb and Sb leachable contents measured in most of the soil samples were relatively high, exceeding the inert threshold for landfill disposal of wastes.