Heavy metal pollution caused by cyanide gold leaching: a case study of gold tailings in central China.


Zhang C(1), Wang X(1), Jiang S(1), Zhou M(1), Li F(1), Bi X(1), Xie S(1), Liu J(2).
Author information:
(1)School of Earth Sciences, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan, 430074, China.
(2)School of Earth Sciences, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan, 430074, China. [Email]


It is known that the tailings of gold mines have brought serious heavy metal pollution; however, the heavy metal pollution caused by gold tailings in specific geological environments and extraction processes still must be studied. This study investigated the distribution, speciation, bioaccumulation, and pollution of heavy metals in soils from the Yueliangbao gold tailings area in central China, where gold was extracted by cyanidation. The results show that the concentrations of Cu, Pb, Zn, Mn, Mo, and Cd in the soils of the tailings pond were higher than those in the local background. The concentrations of heavy metals related to mineralization activities, such as Cu, Pb, Zn, and Mo, varied with the distance to the tailings pond center. There was a decreasing trend of tailings pond center > tailings pond entrance > surrounding environment. This study's gold tailings pond differed from those of other regions because of its high content of unextracted Cu remaining in the pond. The proportion of non-residual Cu in the tailing pond soil was much higher than that of residual Cu, indicating it was likely to migrate to the surrounding environment. The pollution assessment indicated that the tailings pond soils were heavily polluted by Cu, and the level of heavy metal pollution in soils was positively correlated with the distance to the tailings pond center. Consequently, this tailings pond may become a source of Cu pollution in the surrounding environment, thus endangering environmental safety and human health. The study of heavy metal concentrations in the dominant plants showed that Chinese brake (Pteris vittata L.), Ramose scouring rush (Equisetum ramosissimum), and Manyflower silvergrass (Miscanthus floridulus) had the potential to be used for the phytostabilization of Cu.