Response of key soil parameters during compost-assisted phytostabilization in extremely acidic tailings: Effect of plant species

Fernando A. Solís-Dominguez, Scott A. White, Travis Borrillo Hutter, Mary Kay Amistadi, Robert A. Root, Jon Chorover, Raina M. Maier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Phytostabilization of mine tailings acts to mitigate both eolian dispersion and water erosion events which can disseminate barren tailings over large distances. This technology uses plants to establish a vegetative cover to permanently immobilize contaminants in the rooting zone, often requiring addition of an amendment to assist plant growth. Here we report the results of a greenhouse study that evaluated the ability of six native plant species to grow in extremely acidic (pH ∼ 2.5) metalliferous (As, Pb, Zn: 2000-3000 mg kg -1) mine tailings from Iron King Mine Humboldt Smelter Superfund site when amended with a range of compost concentrations. Results revealed that three of the six plant species tested (buffalo grass, mesquite, and catclaw acacia) are good candidates for phytostabilization at an optimum level of 15% compost (w/w) amendment showing good growth and minimal shoot accumulation of metal(loid)s. A fourth candidate, quailbush, also met all criteria except for exceeding the domestic animal toxicity limit for shoot accumulation of zinc. A key finding of this study was that the plant species that grew most successfully on these tailings significantly influenced key tailings parameters; direct correlations between plant biomass and both increased tailings pH and neutrophilic heterotrophic bacterial counts were observed. We also observed decreased iron oxidizer counts and decreased bioavailability of metal(loid)s mainly as a result of compost amendment. Taken together, these results suggest that the phytostabilization process reduced tailings toxicity as well as the potential for metal(loid) mobilization. This study provides practical information on plant and tailings characteristics that is critically needed for successful implementation of assisted phytostabilization on acidic, metalliferous mine tailings sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1019-1027
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 17 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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