River system recovery following the Novaţ-Roşu tailings dam failure, Maramureş County, Romania

Graham Bird, Paul A. Brewer, Mark G. Macklin, Dan Balteanu, Mihaela Serban, Basarab Driga, Sorin Zaharia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (SciVal)

Abstract

The River Vişeu catchment in Maramureş County, northwestern Romania, has a long history of base and precious metal mining. Between 1994 and 2003 waste from mining activity at Baia Borşa was stored in the Novaţ-Roşu tailings pond in the upper Vişeu catchment. However, in March 2000, the tailings dam failed releasing approximately 100,000 m3 of contaminated water and 20,000 t of mineral-rich solid waste, which was routed downstream through the Rivers Novaţ, Vaser and Vişeu into the River Tisa. Following the accident metal (Cd, Cu, Pb, Zn) concentrations in river water and river channel sediment were assessed in samples collected annually (July 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003) from 29 sites in the Vişeu catchment, downstream of the tailings pond. Additionally, the speciation of sediment-associated metals was established using a 4-stage sequential extraction procedure (SEP) and Pb isotope analysis (206/204Pb and 207/204Pb) was carried out to establish the provenance of contaminated sediments. Metal concentrations in river water were found to comply with EU directive ‘target’ values within four months of the failure. However, the impact of the spill upon river channel sediments was found to be much longer-lasting, with evidence of the delayed downstream remobilization of tailings stored within the narrow Novaţ valley following the dam failure, as well as continued inputs of contaminated sediment to the River Vişeu from the River Tisla, another mining-affected tributary. Comparison with data from other recent tailings dam failures, indicates that river system recovery rates depend upon local geomorphological conditions, hydrological regimes, and the nature and scale of post-spill clean-up operations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3498-3518
Number of pages21
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Volume23
Issue number12
Early online date22 Aug 2008
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2008

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