Phytostabilization of mine tailings in arid and semiarid environments - An emerging remediation technology

Monica O. Mendez, Raina M. Maier

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

789 Scopus citations


Objective: Unreclaimed mine tailings sites are a worldwide problem, with thousands of unvegetated, exposed tailings piles presenting a source of contamination fox nearby communities. Tailings disposal sites in arid and semiarid environments are especially subject to eolian dispersion and water erosion. Phytostabilization, the use of plants for in situ stabilization of tailings and metal contaminants, is a feasible alternative to costly remediation practices. In this review we emphasize considerations for phytostabilization of mine tailings in arid and semiarid environments, as well as issues impeding its long-term success. Data sources: We reviewed literature addressing mine closures and revegetation of mine tailings, along with publications evaluating plant ecology, microbial ecology, and soil properties of mine tailings. Data extraction: Data were extracted from peer-reviewed articles and books identified in Web of Science and Agricola databases, and publications available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the United Nations Environment Programme. Data synthesis: Harsh climatic conditions in arid and semiarid environments along with the innate properties of mine tailings require specific considerations. Plants suitable for phytostabilization must be native, be drought-, salt-, and metal-tolerant, and should limit shoot metal accumulation. Factors for evaluating metal accumulation and toxicity issues are presented. Also reviewed are aspects of implementing phytostabilization, including plant growth stage, amendments, irrigation, and evaluation. Conclusions: Phytostabilization of mine tailings is a promising remedial technology but requires further research to identify factors affecting its long-term success by expanding knowledge of suitable plant species and mine tailings chemistry in ongoing field trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)278-283
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Arid
  • Mine tailings
  • Phytostabilization
  • Remediation
  • Revegetation
  • Semiarid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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