A geochemical approach was applied to understand the factors controlling the mobilization of As and trace elements (TEs) in mining areas of the Poopó and Antequera River sub-basins on the Bolivian Altiplano. A total of 52 samples (surface, groundwater and geothermal water) were collected during the rainy season (2009). Arsenic, Cd and Mn concentrations exceed World Health Organization (WHO) drinking water guidelines and Bolivian regulations for drinking water in 28 groundwater samples, but Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn do not. Arsenic, Cd, Mn, Pb and Zn concentrations exceed World Health Organization guidelines for drinking water and Bolivian regulations Class A standard for discharge to water bodies in 20 surface water samples, whereas levels of Cu do not, and Ni and Fe rarely exceed regulation and guideline values. Factor analysis was applied to 18 hydrochemical parameters of 52 samples. Five factors for groundwater (plagioclase weathering, dissolution of gypsum and halite, TEs mobilization at acidic pH, sulfide oxidation, and release of As) account for 86.5% of the total variance for Antequera and 83.9% for Poopó sub-basins. Four factors for surface water data (weathering and mobilization of TEs influenced by pH, dissolution of evaporate salts, neutralization of acid mine drainage, and As release due to dissolution of Mn and Fe oxides) account for 91% of the total variance in Antequera and 96% in Poopó sub-basins. The As and TEs mobilized in these regions could affect the local water sources, which is a prevalent concern with respect to water resource management in this semi-arid Altiplano region. Presence of both natural and anthropogenic sources of contamination requires careful monitoring of water quality.
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