This seminar is sponsored by the NIEHS Superfund Basic Research Program (SBRP), in conjunction with the University of Arizona SBRP and EPA Region 9. In arid and semi-arid parts of the world, including parts of the western United States, mine tailings and their associated contaminants are prone to wind dispersion and water erosion. These problems are extensive and can persist for decades because these sites lack normal soil stabilization processes including the establishment of a plant cover and the associated development of soil structure. These sites can have profound health and environmental consequences especially for children in nearby communities or for sensitive riparian or wildlife refuge areas. Dr. Raina Maier, University of Arizona Dept. of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences, is investigating phytostabilization — the establishment of a vegetation cover using the native plants — to minimize dispersion and erosion processes. Study sites include those that are both moderately and severely impacted. Dr. Maier's team has identified several native species that are good candidates for phytostabilization of mine tailings in semiarid regions of the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico. Organic matter amendment up to 15% by mass may be required depending on the extent of pH, metal, and microbial community stress that exists in a given site. Attributes of these native plants include drought and metal tolerance and low accumulation of toxic metals such as As, Cd, or Pb into shoot tissues. Dr. Maier is particularly interested in the role of the microbial community in revegetation of these sites. This work shows that that the microbial community composition both initially and during phytostabilization can be used as an indicator for the potential for and success of a mine tailings revegetation.
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