- © The Mineralogical Society Of America
Human societies have, in all ages, modified the original form of metals and metalloids in their living environment for their survival and technical development. In many cases, these anthropogenic activities have resulted in the release into the environment of contaminants that pose a threat to ecosystems and public health. Examples of local and global pollution are legion worldwide, and the reader of the environmental science literature is forever faced with ever more alarming reports on hazards due to toxic metals. For example, extensive mining and associated industrial activities have introduced large amounts of metal contaminants in nature at the local, but also global, scale since anthropogenic metals are detected in remote areas including Greenland ice (Boutron et al. 1991). Industrialized countries have countless polluted sites, and the major consequence in terms of contamination by heavy metals are areas of wasteland and sources of acid and metal-rich runoff from tailings piles and waste-rock heaps, and the subsequent pollution of coastal areas. Water supplies in many areas of many countries are also extensively polluted or threatened by high concentration of metal(loid)s, sometimes from natural sources, but most often from the activities of humans (Smedley and Kinniburgh 2002). Pollution of ground and surface waters, and hence of lands, by arsenic from alluvial aquifers in the Bengal Delta plain and in Vietnam are probably the two most catastrophic actual examples of the second type, where a modification of the chemistry of deep sediment layers by intensive well drillings and pumping of drinking water has led to vast arsenic remobilization and poisoning of ecosystems (Chatterjee et al. 1995; Nickson et al. 1998; Berg et al. 2001).
Soils and sediments, being at the interface between the geosphere, the atmosphere, the biosphere and the hydrosphere, represent the major sinks for anthropogenic metals released to …