Wetlands are well known to be efficient at sequestering pollutants from contaminated water. We investigated metal accumulation in the peats of the Klip River, a natural wetland that has received contaminated water from gold mining operations in Johannesburg for over 130 years. Previous work conducted in the downstream portion identified the wetland as an important system for sequestering metals. We focused on the upstream section of the wetland, more proximal to the source of acid mine drainage, to provide a better understanding of the pollutant sources and the role of the wetland in pollutant attenuation. Geochemical and mineralogical analyses of peat cores revealed considerable metal enrichments in the peat ash, particularly in Co, Ni, Zn, Pb, Cu and U. Metal concentrations are typically between 4 to 8 times higher than those previously reported for the downstream, more distal portion of the wetland. The distribution of metal accumulation within the peat profiles suggests that contamination arises from a combination of sources and processes. Elevated concentrations in the shallow peat are attributed to the input of contaminated surface water via tributaries that drain the Central Rand Goldfield, whereas enrichments in the deeper peat suggest significant sub-surface inflow of contaminated water through the underlying dolomitic rocks. Metal immobilisation occurs through a combination of mechanisms, which include the precipitation of gypsum, metal sulfides, Fe-Mn oxyhydroxides and phosphates. Our study highlights the environmental and economic importance of natural wetland systems which have the ability to accumulate large quantities of metals and thus remediate polluted waters.
- Considerable levels of metal accumulation are observed within the Klip River wetland peats.
- The wetland is effective in remediating highly polluted water emanating from the Witwatersrand Basin.
- The Klip River system is important for the region’s future water supply.