Chemie der Erde – Geochemistry 74:3 (2014) 365-373.

DOI: 10.1016/j.chemer.2013.12.001


An exploratory study has been conducted to test the utility of automated mineral analysis observations to identify flue dust particles in topsoils exposed for several decades to emissions of a copper smelter. The methods used are readily available in mining countries. To identify the most impacted sites, the Cu, Zn, Pb, Mo and As levels in water and diluted sulphuric acid extractions of four topsoil size fractions (833–495 μm, 246–148 μm; 74–38 μm; <38 μm) were analysed. X-ray diffraction analyses were used to demonstrate the mineralogical degradation of smectite phases when approaching the smelter. Flue dust particles in different states of conservation in topsoils were directly observed by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) aided by energy dispersive detection of X-rays. Qemscan® scanning of dispersed topsoil preparations (10,000 particles) pinpoints smelter particles by their density; flue dust pearls can be tracked by sorting particles according to their sphericity, clearly identifying them as pyrometallurgical products. When sorting soil particles by mineral groups (e.g. sulphides), an increase in this phase group can be observed when approaching the smelter. SEM resolution limits observations to particles larger than 2–3 μm. Smaller particles can be observed by transmission electron microscopy, although observer experience and the availability of equipment time are essential as is the case for SEM.

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