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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 34 No. 1, p. 139-148
    Received: Jan 9, 2004

    * Corresponding author(s): slb@u.washington.edu
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Ecosystem Function in Alluvial Tailings after Biosolids and Lime Addition

  1. Sally Brown *a,
  2. Mark Sprengerb,
  3. Amanda Maxemchukc and
  4. Harry Comptonb
  1. a College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195
    b USEPA Environmental Response Team, Edison, NJ 08837
    c Lockheed Martin, Edison, NJ 08837


Municipal biosolids and agricultural limestone were incorporated into the surface of alluvial highly acidic, metal-contaminated mine tailings in Leadville, CO, in 1998. Amended sites were seeded and a plant cover was subsequently established. A range of chemical and biological parameters were measured over time to determine if treatment was sufficient to restore ecosystem function. An uncontaminated upstream control (UUC), a contaminated vegetated area (CVA), and soils collected from the tailings deposits before amendment addition were used for comparison. Standard soil extracts showed decreases in extractable Pb, Zn, and Cd in the amended soils. Increased CO2 evolution, reduced N2O, and elevated NO3 in the amended tailings indicated an active microbial community. Levels of CO2 and NO3 were elevated in comparison with the CVA and UUC. Ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) and earthworm (Eisenia foetida) survival and metal uptake values were similar in amended tailings to a laboratory control soil. Ryegrass and worms in unamended tailings died. Field plant diversity was lower in amended areas than in CVA or UUC, with a higher percentage of the vegetative cover consisting of grasses. Small mammal analysis showed a low potential for elevated body Cd and Pb in the amended tailings. A re-entrainment study using fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) showed no danger for resuspended amended tailings, as survival of fish was similar to the laboratory control. Data suggest that ecosystem function has been restored to the amended tailings, but that these systems are not yet in equilibrium.

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