Metal and metalloid contaminants in atmospheric aerosols from mining operations

Janae Csavina, Andrea Landázuri, Anna Wonaschütz, Kyle Rine, Paul Rheinheimer, Brian Barbaris, William Conant, Avelino Eduardo Sáez, Eric A. Betterton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Mining operations are potential sources of airborne metal and metalloid contaminants through both direct smelter emissions and wind erosion of mine tailings. The warmer, drier conditions predicted for the Southwestern USA by climate models may make contaminated atmospheric dust and aerosols increasingly important, with potential deleterious effects on human health and ecology. Fine particulates such as those resulting from smelting operations may disperse more readily into the environment than coarser tailings dust. Fine particles also penetrate more deeply into the human respiratory system and may become more bioavailable due to their high specific surface area. In this work, we report the size-fractionated chemical characterization of atmospheric aerosols sampled over a period of a year near an active mining and smelting site in Arizona. Aerosols were characterized with a ten-stage (0.054 to 18 μm aerodynamic diameter) multiple orifice uniform deposit impactor (MOUDI), a scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS), and a total suspended particulate collector. The MOUDI results show that arsenic and lead concentrations follow a bimodal distribution, with maxima centered at approximately 0.3 and 7.0 μm diameter. We hypothesize that the sub-micron arsenic and lead are the product of condensation and coagulation of smelting vapors. In the coarse size, contaminants are thought to originate as Aeolian dust from mine tailings and other sources. Observation of ultrafine particle number concentration (SMPS) show the highest readings when the wind comes from the general direction of the smelting operations site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-157
Number of pages13
JournalWater, Air, and Soil Pollution
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Aerosol
  • Metal contaminants
  • Metalloid contaminants
  • Mining operations
  • SMPS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution


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