Metal species in a Boreal river system affected by acid sulfate soils

Miriam I. Nystrand*, Peter Österholm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


The bioavailability of metals and their potential for environmental pollution depends not simply on total concentrations but on their chemical form. Consequently, knowledge of aqueous metal speciation is essential in investigating potential metal toxicity and mobility. Dissolved (<1. kDa), colloidal (1. kDa-0.45μm) and particulate (>0.45μm) size fractions of sulfate, organic C (OC) and 18 metals/metalloids were investigated in the extremely acidic Vörå River system in Western Finland, which is strongly affected by acid sulfate (AS) soils. In addition, geochemical modelling was used to predict the formation of free ions and complexes in these acidic waters. The most important finding of this study is that the very large amounts of elements known to be released from AS soils (including Al, Ca, Cd, Co, Cu, Mg, Mn, Na, Ni, Si and U) occur and can prevail mainly in toxic forms throughout acidic river systems; as free ions and/or sulfate-complexes. This has serious effects on the biota and particularly dissolved Al can be expected to have acute effects on fish and other organisms. In the study area, only the relatively forested upstream area (higher pH and contents of OC) had significant amounts of a few bioavailable elements (including Al, Cu, Ni and U) due to complexation with the more abundantly occurring colloidal OC in the upstream area. It is, however, notable that some of the colloidal/particulate metals were most likely associated with metal bearing phyllosilicates eroded from clay soils. Moreover, the mobilisation of Fe and As was small and As was predicted to be associated with Fe oxides, indicating a considerable influence of Fe oxides on the mobilisation/immobilisation processes of As. Elements will ultimately be precipitated in the recipient estuary, where the acidic metal-rich river water will gradually be diluted/neutralised with brackish seawater in the Gulf of Bothnia. According to speciation modelling, such a pH rise may first cause precipitation of Al, Cu and U together with organic matters closest to the river mouth, in line with previous sediment studies from the estuary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-141
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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