Heavy Metal and Metalloid Contamination Assessments of Soil around an Abandoned Uranium Tailings Pond and the Contaminations' Spatial Distribution and Variability

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Oct 29;15(11):2401. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15112401.


To investigate the heavy metal and metalloid contamination of soil around a Huanan uranium tailings pond, abandoned in 1998, we defined a study area of 41.25 km² by a natural boundary and targeted 5 elements' (U, Mn, As, Pb, Cr) single contamination and comprehensive pollution as the assessment contents. First, we collected 205 samples and evaluated them with the contamination factor (CF) method aiming at judging whether the single target element concentration exceeded the local background value and environmental quality standard. We obtained CF₁ (the background value of a certain target element as the baseline value) and CF₂ (the environmental quality standard for soils as the baseline value). Second, we evaluated the ecological risk of the key pollutant U with the risk assessment code (RAC) method, taking the 27 samples whose CF₂ > 1 as examples and concluded that the environmental risk of U was relatively high and should arouse concern. Third, we selected comprehensive pollution index (CPI) to assess the compound pollution degree of five target elements. Fourth, we constructed the U contamination and CPI's continuous distribution maps with spatial interpolation, from which we worked out the sizes and positions of slightly, moderately and strongly polluted zones. Finally, we analyzed the spatial variability of U and CPI with the aid of a geostatistical variogram. We deduced that the spatial variation of uranium was in close relationship with local topography, and probably precipitation was the driving force of U contamination diffusion, whereas CPI exhibited weak spatial dependence with random characteristics. The above work showed that 3.14 km² soil near the pond was fairly seriously polluted, and the other 4 elements' single contaminations were less serious, but the 5 target elements' cumulative pollution could not be ignored; there were other potential pollution sources besides the uranium tailings pond. Some emergency measures should be taken to treat U pollution, and bioremediation is recommended, taking account into U's high bioavailability. Further, special alerts should be implemented to identify the other pollution sources.

Keywords: comprehensive pollution index (CPI); heavy metal and metalloid pollution assessment; spatial distribution; spatial variability; uranium tailings pond.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Environmental Pollution / analysis*
  • Metalloids / analysis*
  • Ponds
  • Risk Assessment
  • Soil / chemistry*
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Uranium / analysis*


  • Metalloids
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Uranium