The rapid urbanization of China and associated demand for land resources necessitates remediation, redevelopment, and reclamation of contaminated soil. Before these measures are taken, a basic investigation and inventory of heavy metal (HM) pollution levels in contaminated soil is necessary for establishing and implementing the redevelopment plan. In the present study, to identify the policy implications of inventorying and mapping HM pollution of soil in brownfields throughout China, the Bayan Obo giant rare earth element (REE)-Nb-Fe ore deposit of Baotou in Inner Mongolia, China, which is the largest REE mineral deposit in the world, was taken as a case study. Soil samples from 24 sites in Bayan Obo mining area (MA) and 76 sites in mine tailing area (TA) were collected for determining contents of soil HMs (Cr, Cd, Pb, Cu, and Zn). The results showed that the average concentrations of Cr, Cd, Pb, Cu, and Zn in both MA and TA were all higher than their corresponding background values for Inner Mongolia but lower than the Class II criteria of the National Soil Quality Standards of China (GB 15618-1995). Enrichment factor (EF) analysis of the soil samples indicated that the soil in the brownfield sites was highly enriched with Cr, Cd, Pb, Cu, and Zn compared to the corresponding background values. In MA, the EF for Cd was the highest among the studied elements, while in TA, the EF for Cr (3.45) was the highest, closely followed by the EF for Cd (3.34). The potential ecological risk index (RI) indicated a moderate potential ecological risk from the studied HMs in MA and a low potential ecological risk in TA, and the results of RI also suggested that the soil was most heavily polluted by Cd. According to the spatial distribution maps of HM, contamination hot-spots were primarily located near mining-related high-pollution plants. Based on the results, policy recommendations are proposed related to brownfield management in urban planning.
Keywords: Brownfield management; Heavy metal pollution; Potential ecological risk; Rare earth mine.