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Evaluation of aluminum speciation in surface waters in China and its environmental risk assessment

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As the ongoing global research on acid precipitation is developing in depth, more and more attention has been paid to the ecological effects of aluminum (Al) due to its toxicity to plants and animals, which is caused by acid precipitation. As a very serious problem of terrestrial and aquatic environmental acidification occurs in China, especially in southwestern China, a systematic investigation of Al speciation in these regions is very important. In this paper, the Al speciation results of surface waters in China are reported and its ecological impacts is evaluated. More than 100 water samples were collected from about twenty provinces of China. Driscoll's Al speciation scheme combined with the modified MINQEL computer model is used for speciation of Al. This study shows that the ecological impacts of acidification are quite different between China and Western countries, because of different geographical environments and geological settings. In Western countries, acidification is mainly caused by NO2-. Due to low concentrations of K+, Na+, Ca2+, Mg2+, the buffer capacities of soil and water are weak. Therefore, natural waters can be acidified to pH<5 very easily, resulting in a considerable mobilization of Al and worsening of the ecological environment. In China, acid precipitation is mainly in the form of sulfuric acid. In northwestern China, concentrations of K+, Na+, Ca2+, Mg2+ are high in soil and surface waters. This leads to much higher capacity and a high resistance ability to acidification. The pH values of waters in this region are high (around 7) and no serious Al toxicity is found at present. However, in northeastern and southeastern China, the soil is rich in Al (unsaturated aluminosilicates in northeastern China, saturated aluminosilicates in north and central China, aluminum-rich soil in southeastern and southwestern China). The concentrations of K+, Na+, Ca2+, Mg2+ in soil and waters are lower than those of northwestern China. Therefore the buffer capacity is limited. Numerous surface waters have already been acidified and pH values declined to 5. The impacts of Al toxicity on ecological systems in these regions are very serious, especially in Jiangxi, Hubei Provinces and Chongqing Municipality.

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