The Doñana ecological disaster: Contamination of a world heritage estuarine marsh ecosystem with acidified pyrite mine waste

D J Pain, A Sanchez, A A Meharg

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One of the most important bird breeding and over wintering sites in the west of Europe, the Coto Donana, was severely impacted by the release of 5 million cubic meters of acid waste from the processing of pyrite ore. The waste entered ecologically sensitive areas of the park (including breeding areas for internationally endangered bird species) causing sustained pH decreases from pH 8.5 to 4.5 and resulting in massive metal contamination of the impacted ecosystem. The contaminating sludge waste contained arsenic at 0.6%, lead at 1.2% and zinc at 0.8% on a dry weight basis. The acid conditions facilitated the solubilization of these metals, leading to water concentrations lethal for aquatic wildlife. The accident caused considerable fish and invertebrate kills and has severe consequences for the protected bird species dependent on the impacted habitats and adjacent areas. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-54
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 1998


  • acid mine wastes
  • arsenic
  • cadmium
  • Coto Donana
  • lead
  • zinc
  • National-Park Spain
  • heavy-metals
  • ciconiforme eggs
  • SW Spain
  • organochlorine
  • water
  • soils
  • pollutants
  • ingestion

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