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Applied Geochemistry special issue on Environmental impacts of mining and smelting

The mining and metallurgical industries rank among the most important anthropogenic sources of pollution. These activities generate important quantities of solid wastes (tailings, slags, fly ash, dusts), which are often stored on the dumps, in the tailing ponds, or in other types of disposal sites without any specific treatment. These wastes still contain significant amounts of metals and metalloids, which can subsequently be released through either chemical or biological weathering and, together with liquid effluents from mines and smelters, can contaminate various compartments of the environment, primarily the “critical zone” including soils, surface waters, and groundwater. As a result, they represent a severe environmental risk for the biota, including humans. An understanding the mineralogical and geochemical processes affecting the fate of contaminants in the mining- and smelting-impacted areas is of key importance for the development of suitable remediation techniques, which then can potentially be applied at these sites.

A two-day workshop on the “Environmental Impacts of Mining and Smelting” was held in Orsay (University of Paris Sud), France on the 8–9th January 2015, with financial support from the Marie-Curie action EU project NIDYFICS (NIckel DYnamics in impacted ultramaFIC Soils, No. 318123). The objective of this meeting was to share and disseminate knowledge about mining- and smelting-impacted environments as well as to generate research and training collaborations on innovative issues within this area. It was jointly organized by the NIDYFICS partners : University of Paris Sud (France), Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, IPGP (France), Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic), and Brasilia University (Brazil) in collaboration with the SOLEIL synchrotron facility (France). Sixty-five persons coming from Europe, USA, Africa, and Brazil attended this two-day workshop, one third of them being PhD or MSc students. The organizers were proud to invite experts from the field of geochemistry in the mining and smelting environments. The keynote lectures were given by Nadine Piatak (USGS, Reston, USA), Guillaume Morin (Institut de Minéralogie, Physique des Matériaux et Cosmochimie, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France), Jeroen Sonke (Géosciences Environnement Toulouse, France), and Luiz de Andrade Lima (University of Bahia, Brazil).

This special issue represents a collection of 15 selected papers that evolved out of this workshop as well as a few contributions originally submitted as regular research papers to Applied Geochemistry, but having a similar focus. Abandoned mining activities significantly affect watersheds (Courtin-Nomade et al.), and the key contaminant immobilization mechanisms occur either at the solid–water interface of the mine drainage (Adra et al.), mining-impacted soils (Le Roux et al.), or directly in the mine waste disposal sites (Robertson et al.). Especially in dry and semi-dry regions, soil systems and plants are most affected by wind-blown contaminated dust from mine tailings (Pourret et al.), from smelter operations, or from dumps of smelter wastes (Kříbek et al., and review by Ettler). The chemically and biologically-driven dissolution of smelter wastes, and subsequent precipitation and/or sorption processes (such as the key controlling mineralogical and geochemical mechanisms) are responsible for the fates of inorganic contaminants in the vicinities of smelter waste disposal sites (Potysz et al., Sobanska et al., Ettler et al.). The use of non-traditional metal isotopes is one of the major new advances used in tracing the origins and dispersion of contamination near mines and smelters (review by Yin et al., Ratié et al.). Moreover, the application of stable isotope exchange kinetics has been successful in deciphering the dynamics and availability of metals in contaminated soils (Zelano et al., Ren et al.). Finally, the legacy of previous ore mining and processing also has important consequences for the populations living in these areas ; the environmental risks are related to high levels of metals in the soils and house dust ; having direct implications for human exposure, as reflected by the high concentrations of contaminants in biological tissues such as in human hair (Brewer et al.).

On behalf of the Guest Editors, we would like to thank all the authors for their contributions, as well as the reviewers for their time and constructive feedback, which significantly helped to improve the quality of the papers. We also wish to acknowledge the Applied Geochemistry production staff at Elsevier, especially Emily Wan, for their patience and support during the collation of this special issue. Finally, we cannot end without mentioning the painful events that occurred in France during the workshop, and we want to say “Je suis Charlie” (we too are Charlie).

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