The effect of accidental sulphuric acid leaking on metal distributions in estuarine sediments of Patos lagoon

Mirlean, Nicolai; Baraj, Besnik; Niencheski, Luis Felipe Hax; Baisch, Paulo Roberto Martins; Robinson, Daniel


In August of 1998 the tanker BAHAMAS belonging to the Chem Oil Company containing 12 000 t of concentrated sulphuric acid, had an accident on board, after which estuarine water entered one of the compartments of the tanker, resulting in a vigorous exothermic reaction. The reaction of acid with the metallic interior hull of the ship and the accompanying heat and H2 production resulted in an imminent risk of explosion. To avoid an explosion, given the fact that neutralization was not possible, some of the cargo was discharged into the surrounding water. Neutralization was done in January 1999, after the acid concentration in the tanker had decreased and the concentrations of Fe, Cr and Ni remained elevated. Metal concentrations in bottom sediments showed significant modifications. Leached mercury migrated and redeposited downstream, reaching approximately 76 times the background values. Such an anomaly has a well expressed barrier character. The mechanism for redeposition of Hg and other metals probably followed the pattern: Downstream as a result of dilution and mixing with seawater the pH of acid–water increases, favouring adsorption and/or precipitation of metals. The leading edge of a geochemical barrier, at positions 7–9 of sampling sites (Fig. 1), is confirmed by pH variations in the water. The reestablishment of normal pH occurred after a short time due to the high buffering capacity of seawater and large natural dilution process. The concentration of metals in estuarine water during and after the accident showed insignificant anomalies.

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