Organic material in metal contaminated soils around an abandoned magnetite mine-smelter complex in the critical Highlands watershed protects the groundwater and surface water from contamination. Metals in these waters were consistently below local and national water standards. Two groups of soil types cover the area: (1) Group A disturbed metal-rich soils, and (2) Group B undisturbed organic soils. Chromium and nickel were more elevated than other metals with Cr more widespread than Ni. In Group A, Cr correlated strongly with sesquioxides in the lower horizons (Fe2O3: r = 0.74, p < 0.025; Al2O3: r = 0.92, p < 0.005). In Group B, Cr correlated strongly (r = 0.96, p < 0.005) with soil organic matter (SOM) in the O-horizons. Ni-Cr (Group A: 52 and 70% in O- and lower horizons, respectively; Group B: ~100% in both horizons) and V-Cr correlations (78% only in Group A lower horizons) suggest similar retention mechanisms for these elements. Average soil pHCaCl2or both groups ranged between 3.65 and 5.91, suggesting that soil acidity is determined by organic acids and solubility of Al3+ releasing H+ ions. SOM and sesquioxides contribute significantly to creating naturally occurring filtration systems, removing metals, and protecting water quality. High Ca, Fe, and Ti in Group A soils suggest slag and ash were mixed into the soils. Some low-Cr sources include magnetite, slag, and ash (100, 100 and 200 mg/kg, respectively). Constant ZrO2:TiO2 ratios in the lower soils indicate soil formation from breakdown of underlying tailing rocks, contributing Cr to these layers.
- Metal contamination
- Soil organic matter