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Mobilization and attenuation of metals downstream from a base-metal mining site in the Matra Mountains, northeastern Hungary

January 1, 1999

Regional geochemical baseline values have been established for Hungary by the use of low-density stream-sediment surveys of flood-plain deposits of large drainage basins and of the fine fraction of stream sediments. The baseline values and anomaly thresholds thus produced helped to evaluate the importance of high toxic element concentrations found in soils in a valley downstream of a polymetallic vein-type base-metal mine. Erosion of the mine dumps and flotation dump, losses of metals during filtering, storage and transportation, human neglects, and operational breakdowns, have all contributed to the contamination of a small catchment basin in a procession of releases of solid waste. The sulfide-rich waste material weathers to a yellow color; this layer of 'yellow sand' blankets a narrow strip of the floodplain of Toka Creek in the valley near the town of Gyongyosoroszi. Contamination was spread out in the valley by floods. Metals present in the yellow sand include Pb, As, Cd, Cu, Zn, and Sb. Exposure of the local population to these metals may occur through inhalation of airborne particulates or by ingestion of these metals that are taken up by crops grown in the valley. To evaluate the areal extent and depth of the contamination, active stream sediment, flood-plain deposits, lake or reservoir sediments, soils, and surface water were sampled along the erosion pathways downstream of the mine and dumps. The flood-plain profile was sampled in detail to see the vertical distribution of elements and to relate the metal concentrations to the sedimentation and contamination histories of the flood plain. Downward migration of mobile Zn and Cd from the contaminated upper layers under supergene conditions is observed, while vertical migration of Pb, As, Hg and Sb appears to be insignificant. Soil profiles of 137Cs which originated from above-ground atomic bomb tests and the Chernobyl accident, provide good evidence that the upper 30-40 cm of the flood-plain sections, which includes the yellow sand contamination, were deposited in the last 30-40 years.The regional geochemical baseline values are established for Hungary using low-density stream-sediment surveys of flood-plain deposits of large drainage basins and of the fine fraction of stream sediments. The baseline values and anomaly thresholds allowed the evaluation of the importance of high toxic element concentrations in soils in a valley, downstream of a polymetallic vein-type base-metal mine. The metals present in the yellow sand include Pb, As, Cd, Cu, Zn and Sb. To evaluate the areal extent and depth of the contamination, active stream sediment, flood-plain deposits, lake or reservoir sediments, the soils and surface water were sampled along the erosion pathways downstream of the mine and dumps.