After the Aznalcóllar mine spill: arsenic, zinc, selenium, lead and copper levels in the livers and bones of five waterfowl species

M A Taggart, J Figuerola, A J Green, R Mateo, C Deacon, D Osborn, A A Meharg

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79 Citations (Scopus)


In April 1998, a holding lagoon containing pyrite ore processing waste, failed and released 5-6 million m3 of highly polluting sludge and acidic water. Over 2650 ha of the internationally important Doñana Natural Park became contaminated, along with <100 ha of the more pristine Doñana National Park. In order to assess the affect of the spill on waterfowl from Doñana, bone and liver samples from 124 individuals have been analysed for As, Pb, Cu, Zn and Se. Five species have been studied, from the Rallidae (rails), Anatini (dabbling ducks) and Aythyini (pochards) families. Geometric mean bone concentrations 2-3 months after the spill were in the order of Zn > Cu > Pb > Se > As, while liver concentrations were in the order of Zn > Cu > Se > Pb > As. Dry weight bone concentrations ranged from n.d-1.76 mg kg(-1) As, 109.4-247.6 mg kg(-1) Zn, 0.06-1.27 mg kg(-1) Se, n.d-134.11 mg kg(-1) Pb, and 2.18-8.92 mg kg(-1) Cu. Wet weight liver concentrations ranged from n.d-0.34 mg kg(-1) As, 29.8-220.1 mg kg(-1) Zn, 0.15-0.85 mg kg(-1) Se, n.d-3.80 mg kg(-1) Pb, and 7.30-742.96 mg kg(-1) Cu. The most important factor related to the accumulation of these metals was commonly species; however, location and sex also had important effects on liver As levels, location and age affected Cu levels, while Zn and Pb were affected by age, sex and location. Birds from Natural Park areas were found to have significantly higher levels of bone Zn, Pb and Cu, and liver As and Cu than birds from National Park areas. Female birds had higher liver As, Zn and Pb than males; whilst adults appeared to have lower bone As and Zn but higher liver Pb than chicks/juveniles. Although metal concentrations were elevated in certain individuals, in the majority of birds studied, they did not reach levels widely considered to be toxic. However, it would appear that As and Cu liver levels (which may be indicative of short-medium term pollutant exposure) were elevated in waterbirds which died in the spill contaminated Natural Park, 2-3 months after the disaster.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-61
Number of pages13
JournalMarine Environmental Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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