alexa Distribution of dissolved species and suspended particulate copper in an intertidal ecosystem affected by copper mine tailings in Northern Chile
Environmental Sciences

Environmental Sciences

Journal of Pollution Effects & Control

Author(s): Santiago Andrade, James Moffett, Juan A Correa

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The coastline near Chañaral in Northern Chile is one of the most highly Cu-contaminated zones in the world due to discharges from mining activities for more than 60 years. The speciation of Cu has been studied to determine the importance of organic complexation in highly contaminated areas, and to assess the likely physiological impacts of Cu on marine organisms. Dissolved Cu concentrations of up to 500 nM were measured, completely saturating organic ligands and leading to free Cu2+ concentrations in excess of 10− 8 M. These values are higher than those reported in any other marine environment, and because they occur over an extensive area, provide a unique opportunity to study the effects of Cu on marine ecosystems and to see how Cu behaves when its speciation is predominantly inorganic. We found strong gradients in free Cu2+ between Chañaral and adjacent areas with lower Cu, where speciation is dominated by organic complexation. There is also a significant increase in the partitioning of Cu onto suspended particles in the contaminated areas, consistent with previous studies that showed that organic ligands stabilize Cu in the dissolved phase, whilst “excess” Cu is rapidly scavenged. Those high dissolved Cu concentrations persist in spite of solid phase partitioning and advective processes along this open-ocean coastline, suggesting that Cu inputs into the system are still very large. Measurements were made using anodic stripping voltammetry with a thin mercury film coated with Nafion, which previous workers have shown can mitigate ambiguity in the data arising from inadvertent reduction of organic complexes. Our findings suggest that this is a useful methodology for contaminated systems.

This article was published in Marine Chemistry and referenced in Journal of Pollution Effects & Control

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