The Potential of Plants to Improve Outdoor Air Quality at Mine Sites

Dr. Juliana Gil-Loaiza, former  trainee mentored by UA SRP director Dr. Raina Maier, recently published a paper in Environmental Science and Technology.

This project, a collaboration between the UA SRP phytoremediation and atmospheric dust transport project teams, examined the impact of vegetation cover and irrigation on dust emissions and metal(loid) transport from mine tailings during a phytoremediation field trial at the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund (IKMHSS) Site.  

“What we wanted to do with the paper was evaluate how phytoremediation reduces dust emissions from metal contaminated mine tailings,” Gil-Loaiza said. “Wind dispersion of dust and contaminants is one of the most important problems for nearby communities.”

This study demonstrates that phytoremediation can substantially decrease dust emissions and transport of windblown contaminants from mine tailings. Results showed that phytoremediation was especially effective at reducing emission of fine particulates like PM1, PM2.5, and PM4, which have the greatest health risks and the highest potential for long-distance transport.

“I think it’s a very important topic we need to keep studying, mine tailings are one of the most important environmental issues in the US Southwest.” Gil-Loaiza said.

Maier added, “This research took real teamwork to design and to write-up because such different areas of expertise had to be blended to interpret the data and tell the story. It is difficult to put such large and diverse teams together without program grants like those supported by the SRP”.

Congratulations to Gil-Loaiza and all the collaborators on this paper!


Juliana Gil-Loaiza, Jason P. Field, Scott A. White, Janae Csavina, Omar Felix, Eric A. Betterton, A. Eduardo Sáez, and Raina M. Maier. Phytoremediation Reduces Dust Emissions from Metal(loid)-Contaminated Mine Tailings. Environmental Science & Technology 2018 52 (10), 5851-5858. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b05730.