Understanding arsenic mobility and speciation in lake sediments impacted by ore roasting near Giant mine, NWT
Van Den Berghe, Martin
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The roasting of gold-bearing arsenopyrite at Giant mine (Northwest Territories) between 1949 and 1999 released approximately 20,000 tonnes of toxic arsenic-bearing aerosols in the local aerial environment. Detailed examination of lake sediments, sediment porewaters, surface waters and lake hydrology sampled from three lakes of differing limnological characteristics was conducted in summer and winter conditions. Samples were analyzed for solid and dissolved elemental concentrations, speciation and mineralogy. The three lakes are located less than 5km from the mine roaster, and downwind, based on predominant wind direction. The objective of the study was to assess the controls on the mobility and fate of arsenic in these roaster-impacted subarctic lacustrine environments. Results show that the occurrence of arsenic trioxide in lake sediments coincides with the regional onset of industrial activities. The bulk of arsenic in sediments is contained in the form of secondary sulphide precipitates, with iron oxides hosting a minimal amount of arsenic near the surface-water interface. The presence of geogenic arsenic is likely contained as dilute impurities in common rock-forming minerals, and is not believed to be a significant source of arsenic to sediments, porewaters or lake waters. Furthermore, the well correlated depth-profiles of arsenic, antimony and gold in sediments may help reveal roaster impact. The soluble arsenic trioxide particles contained in sediments act as the primary source of arsenic into porewaters. Dissolved arsenic in reducing porewaters both precipitate as secondary sulphides in situ, and diffuse upwards into the overlying lake waters. Arsenic diffusion out of porewaters, combined with watercourse-driven residence time, are estimated to be the predominant mechanisms controlling arsenic concentrations in overlying lake waters. The sequestration of arsenic from porewaters as sulphide precipitates, in the study lakes, is not an effective process in keeping lake-water arsenic concentrations below guidelines for the protection of the freshwater environment and drinking water. Seasonal impacts on lake geochemistry derive from ice covering lake waters, cutting them off from of atmospheric oxygen, along with the exclusion of solutes from the ice. Such effects are limited in deep lakes but are can be an important factor controlling arsenic precipitation and mobility in ponds.