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Air Pollution on the Copperbelt Province of Zambia: Effects of Sulphur Dioxide on Vegetation and Humans

School of Natural Resources, Copperbelt University, Kitwe, Zambia; School of Mines and Mineral Science, s Copperbelt University, Kitwe, Zambia
Journal of Natural & Environmental Sciences 06/2012; 3:34-41.

ABSTRACT People residing near mines, smelting and other gas polluting industries are exposed to a variety of pollutants that affect their health and livelihood. Vegetable production has largely been unsuccessful due to the accumulation of heavy metals, copper, in the soil as well as sulphur dioxide (SO 2) on plants. SO 2 concentration measurements in flue gases and on the bark ofAustralian red cedar (ToonaCiliataRoem.) trees were taken to monitor compliance and to quantify accumulation of SO 2 in the environment. The quantity of SO 2 in copper smelter flue gases over a period of 5 months was determined by a gas analyser directly into parts per million. Points within 10 km radius of the emissions source and a control, which was 30 km away, were located with the aid of a global positioning system. Fifty grams of bark was manually removed at breast height from a sample of trees on line transects. The bark samples were roasted in a stream of air to convert SO 2 absorbed in a neutral solution of hydrogen peroxide into sulphuric acid. The SO 2 concentration levels of 1 402 µg/m 3 in raw flue gases exceeded the threshold value, 1 000 µg/m 3 , within a 4.4 km radius of the emissions source. Despite these measurements being obtained 25 km away from the bark collection area, they represented a worst-case scenario for certain mines on the Copperbelt province which continue releasing raw flue gas into the environment without control. Locations on the south-west and north-east of the emissions source recorded the highest SO 2 concentrations and, cases of necrosis and die-back were observed on trees in thesepoints.It was observed that the amount of polluting substance accumulating in the environment was dependent upon the distance from the emissions source and the prevailing wind direction. Despite the recent installation of environmentally sound technologies, SO 2 measurements under taken in this study provided a long-term impact assessment of pollutants accumulation and show points which are suitable for human settlements and herbal medicine bark harvesting near mines.

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