Fluoride Action Network

The geochemical evolution of brines from phosphogypsum deposits in Huelva (SW Spain) and its environmental implications.

Source: Science of The Total Environment 700:134444. 15 January 2020. [Epub ahead of print] | October 4th, 2019 | Authors: Lieberman RN, Izquierdo M, Córdoba P, Moreno Palmerola N, Querol X, et al.
Location: Spain
Industry type: Phosphate Industry


  • The brines in PG ponds are extremely enriched in F, Na, Cl, Ni, Cd, Mn, Cu, Zn, and U.
  • Brine composition is strongly seasonal and spatial dependent.
  • The enrichment in aged brines is caused by precipitation and re-dissolution processes.
  • Brine evaporation produces multi-layered trace-element rich precipitates.


The present study focuses on the geochemistry of large phosphogypsum deposits in Huelva (SW Spain). Phosphogypsum slurry waste from fertiliser production was disposed in large ponds containing aqueous waste (i.e. brines) and exposed to weathering. These evaporation ponds were found to be dynamic environments far from attaining steady state conditions where a number of trace pollutants are subjected to temporal variations in response to changing environmental conditions. Chemical, mineralogical and morphological data were used to improve our understanding on the dynamics of a large number of elements in the phosphogypsum-brine-evaporation deposits system. Weekly sampling of brines over the course of 1 yr indicated a substantial enrichment in potentially harmful elements (e.g. As, Cr, Cu, F, Ni, U, V, Zn) present in time-dependent concentrations. The evaporation deposits formed multi-layered precipitates of chlorides, sulphates, phosphates and fluorides containing a large number of pollutants in readily soluble forms. The precipitation sequence revealed a time-dependent composition reflecting alternating precipitation and re-dissolution processes associated with seasonal changes in the local weather conditions. Concatenation of precipitation/re-dissolution stages was found to progressively enrich the brines in pollutants. These findings were supported by the observations from a tank experiment simulating the phosphogypsum-brine-evaporation deposits system under laboratory conditions. Given the substantially high concentrations of pollutants present in mobile forms in the brine-salt system, actions to abate these compounds should be implemented.