Surface Water Contamination by Uranium Mining/Milling Activities in Northern Guangdong Province, China

Authors

  • Jin Wang,

    1. Key Laboratory of Waters Safety and Protection in the Pearl River Delta, Ministry of Education, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou, China
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  • Juan Liu,

    1. Key Laboratory of Waters Safety and Protection in the Pearl River Delta, Ministry of Education, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou, China
    2. Department of Geosciences, National Taiwan University, Taipei, China
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  • Hongchun Li,

    1. Department of Geosciences, National Taiwan University, Taipei, China
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  • Gang Song,

    1. Key Laboratory of Waters Safety and Protection in the Pearl River Delta, Ministry of Education, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou, China
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  • Yongheng Chen,

    Corresponding author
    1. Key Laboratory of Waters Safety and Protection in the Pearl River Delta, Ministry of Education, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou, China
    • Guangzhou University, School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Waihuan Xi Road 230, Panyu District, 510006 Guangzhou, China
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  • Tangfu Xiao,

    1. State Key Laboratory of Environmental Geochemistry, Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guiyang, China
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  • Jianying Qi,

    1. South China Institute of Environmental Science, Ministry of Environmental Protection, Guangzhou, China
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  • Li Zhu

    1. Key Laboratory of Waters Safety and Protection in the Pearl River Delta, Ministry of Education, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou, China
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Abstract

The northern region of Guangdong Province, China, has suffered from the extensive mining/milling of uranium for several decades. In this study, surface waters in the region were analyzed by inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES) for the concentrations of uranium (U), thorium (Th), and non-radioactive metals (Fe, Mn, Mg, Li, Co, Cu, Ni, and Zn). Results showed highly elevated concentrations of the studied radionuclides and metals in the discharged effluents and the tailing seepage of the U mining/milling sites. Radionuclide and heavy metal concentrations were also observed to be overall enhanced in the recipient stream that collected the discharged effluents from the industrial site, compared to the control streams, and rivers with no impacts from the U mining/milling sites. They displayed significant spatial variations and a general decrease downstream away from upper point-source discharges of the industrial site. In addition, obvious positive correlations were found between U and Th, Fe, Zn, Li, and Co (R2 > 0.93, n = 28) in the studied water samples, which suggest for an identical source and transport pathway of these elements. In combination with present surface water chemistry and chemical compositions of uraniferous minerals, the elevation of the analyzed elements in the recipient stream most likely arose from the liquid effluents, processing water, and acid drainage from the U mining/milling facilities. The dispersion of radionuclides and hazardous metals is actually limited to a small area at present, but some potential risk should not be negligible for local ecosystem. The results indicate that environmental remediation work is required to implement and future cleaner production technology should be oriented to avoid wide dispersion of radioactivity and non-radioactive hazards in U mining/milling sites.

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