Physicochemical assessment of atmospheric particulate matter emissions during open-pit mining operations in a massive sulphide ore

Carlos Boente, María Millán-Martínez, Ana M.Sánchez de la Campa, Daniel Sánchez-Rodas, Jesús D. de la Rosa, Atmos. Pollut. Res., 2022, 13, 101391.

Mining operations are critical emission sources of atmospheric particulate matter (APM). This study constitutes a physicochemical characterisation of the main geochemical anomalies associated with APM by mining operations in the renowned Riotinto Mine (Iberian Pyrite Belt, Southwest Spain). The operations studied were traffic in the mining tracks, drilling, blasting, dry and wet loading of ore/waste, and stockpiling. Chemical analysis of PM10 and PM2.5 comprised 46 potentially toxic elements (PTEs) and rare earth elements (REEs). The geochemical fingerprint of the operations in nearby populations was studied via environmental ratios after a comprehensive one-year sampling campaign at three monitoring stations. The results revealed that a notable amount of PM10 and PM2.5 is released for the mining tracks, drilling, and dry loading. Moreover, enrichments of typical elements associated with sulphide ores (e.g. Cu, Ba, Zn, As, and Pb) were found, although some of them are also present in the APM geochemical background. These results are of substantial interest to air quality managers aiming to abate the main emission sources of APM and hazardous elements associated with mining processes.