Contamination of Donana food-chains after the Aznalcollar mine disaster

A. A. Meharg, D. Osborn, D. J. Pain*, A. Sánchez, M. A. Naveso

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


On 25 April 1998 part of the tailings pond dike of the Aznalcollar Zn mine north of the Guadalquivir marshes (Donana) in southern Spain collapsed releasing an estimated 5 million m3 of acidic metal-rich waste. This event contaminated farmland and wetland up to >40 km downstream, including the 900-ha 'Entremuros', an important area for birds within the Donana world heritage site. In spite of the contamination, birds continued to feed in this area. Samples of two abundant macrophytes (Typha dominguensis and Scirpus maritimus) were taken from the Entremuros and nearby uncontaminated areas; these plants are important food items for several bird species. Analyses showed that in the Entremuros mean plant tissue concentrations of Cd were 3-40-fold (0.8-7.4 ppm) and Zn 20-100-fold (20-3384 ppm) greater than those from control areas. Comparable dietary concentrations of Zn have been reported to cause severe physiological damage to aquatic birds under experimental conditions. Elevated Cd concentrations are of concern as Cd bioconcentrates and is a cumulative poison. Metals released in this accident are moving into this food-chain and present a considerable risk to species feeding on Typha sp. and Scirpus sp. Many other food-webs exist in this area and require detailed examination to identify the species at risk, and to facilitate the management of these risks to minimise future impacts to the wildlife of Donana. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-390
Number of pages4
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1999


  • Donana
  • Metal contamination
  • Scirpus
  • Spain
  • Typha

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Pollution


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