Assessing the role of bed sediments in the persistence of red mud pollution in a shallow lake (Kinghorn Loch, UK)

Justyna Olszewska, Katherine Heal, Ian J. Winfield, Lorna J. Eades, Bryan M Spears

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Red mud is a by-product of alumina production. Little is known about the long-term fate of red mud constituents in fresh waters or of the processes regulating recovery of fresh waters following pollution control. In 1983, red mud leachate was diverted away from Kinghorn Loch, UK, after many years of polluting this shallow and monomictic lake. We hypothesised that the redox-sensitive constituents of red mud leachate, phosphorus (P), arsenic (As) and vanadium (V), would persist in the Kinghorn Loch for many years following pollution control as a result of cycling between the lake bed sediment and the overlying water column. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a 12-month field campaign in Kinghorn Loch between May 2012 and April 2013 to quantify the seasonal cycling of P, As, and V in relation to environmental conditions (e.g., dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration, pH, redox chemistry and temperature) in the lake surface and bottom waters. To confirm the mechanisms for P, As and V release, a sediment core incubation experiment was conducted using lake sediment sampled in July 2012, in which DO concentrations were manipulated to create either oxic or anoxic conditions similar to the bed conditions found in the lake. The effects on P, As, and V concentrations and species in the water column were measured daily over an eight-day incubation period.

Phosphate (PO4-P) and dissolved As concentrations were significantly higher in the bottom waters (75.9 ± 30.2 μg L−1 and 23.5 ± 1.83 μg L−1, respectively) than in the surface waters (12.9 ± 1.50 μg L−1 and 14.1 ± 2.20 μg L−1, respectively) in Kinghorn Loch. Sediment release of As and P under anoxic conditions was confirmed by the incubation experiment and by the significant negative correlations between DO and P and As concentrations in the bottom waters of the lake. In contrast, the highest dissolved V concentrations occurred in the bottom waters of Kinghorn Loch under oxic conditions (15.0 ± 3.35 μg L−1), with the release from the bed sediment apparently being controlled by a combination of competitive ion concentrations, pH and redox conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-577
JournalWater Research
Early online date5 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

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