The strontium isotope fingerprint of phosphate rocks mining

Avner Vengosh, Zhen Wang, Gordon Williams, Robert Hill, Rachel M. Coyte, Gary S. Dwyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


High concentrations of metal(loid)s in phosphate rocks and wastewater associated with phosphate mining and fertilizer production operations pose potential contamination risks to water resources. Here, we propose using Sr isotopes as a tracer to determine possible water quality impacts induced from phosphate mining and fertilizers production. We utilized a regional case study in the northeastern Negev in Israel, where salinization of groundwater and a spring have been attributed to historic leaking and contamination from an upstream phosphate mining wastewater. This study presents a comprehensive dataset of major and trace elements, combined with Sr isotope analyses of the Rotem phosphate rocks, local aquifer carbonate rocks, wastewater from phosphate operation in Mishor Rotem Industries, saline groundwater suspected to be impacted by Rotem mining activities, and two types of background groundwater from the local Judea Group aquifer. The results of this study indicate that trace elements that are enriched in phosphate wastewater were ubiquitously present in the regional and non-contaminated groundwater at the same levels as detected in the impacted waters, and thus cannot be explicitly linked to the phosphate wastewater. The 87Sr/86Sr ratios of phosphate rocks (0.707794 ± 5 × 10−5) from Mishor Rotem Industries were identical to that of associated wastewater (0.707789 ± 3 × 10−5), indicating that the Sr isotopic fingerprint of phosphate rocks is preserved in its wastewater. The 87Sr/86Sr (0.707949 ± 3 × 10−6) of the impacted saline groundwater were significantly different from those of the Rotem wastewater and the background saline groundwater, excluding phosphate mining effluents as the major source for contamination of the aquifer. Instead, the 87Sr/86Sr ratio of the impacted water was similar to the composition of brines from the Dead Sea, which suggests that the salinization was derived primarily from industrial Dead Sea effluents with distinctive Sr isotope and geochemical fingerprints.

Original languageEnglish
Article number157971
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Isotope tracers
  • Metals
  • Phosphate mining
  • Water contamination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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