Leaching of lava and tephra from the Oldoinyo Lengai volcano (Tanzania): Remobilization of fluorine and other potentially toxic elements into surface waters of the Gregory Rift

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Abstract

Volcanic ash leachate studies have been conducted on various volcanoes on Earth, but few have been done on African volcanoes until now. Tephra emissions may affect the environment and the health of people living in this area, and therefore we conducted a first tephra (ash and lapilli sized) leachate study on the Oldoinyo Lengai volcano, situated in northern Tanzania. The recent explosive eruption in 2007-2008 provided us with fresh samples from the first three weeks of the eruption which were used for this study. In addition, we also used a natrocarbonatitic sample from the activity prior to the explosive eruption, as the major activity at Oldoinyo Lengai is natrocarbonatitic. To compare the leaching process affecting the natrocarbonatitic lavas and the tephras from Oldoinyo Lengai, the 2006 natrocarbonatitic lava flow was resampled 5 years after the emplacement and compared to the initial, unaltered composition. Special interest was given to the element fluorine (F), since it is potentially toxic to both humans and animals. A daily intake of fluoride (F−) in drinking water of > 1.5 mg/l can lead to dental fluorosis, and higher concentrations lead to skeletal fluorosis. For this reason, a guideline value for fluoride in drinking water was set by the WHO (2011) to 1.5 mg/l. However, surface waters and groundwaters in the Gregory Rift have elevated fluoride levels of up to 9.12 mg/l, and as a consequence, an interim guideline value for Tanzania has been set at 8 mg/l. The total concentration of fluorine in the samples from the natrocarbonatitic lava flow is high (3.2 wt%), whereas we observed a significant decrease of the fluorine concentration (between 1.7 and 0.5 wt%) in the samples collected three days and three weeks after the onset of the explosive 2007–08 eruption. However, the total amount of water-extractable fluoride is lower in the natrocarbonatitic lavas (319 mg/l) than in the nephelinitic tephra (573–895 mg/l). This is due to the solubility of the different F-bearing minerals. In the natrocarbonatites, fluorine exists predominantly in fluorite (CaF2), and in the early tephra as Na-Mg bearing salts such as neighborite (NaMgF3) and sellaite (MgF2). All these three minerals have very low solubility in water (16–130 mg/l). The later nephelinitic tephras contain surface coating of villiaumite (NaF), which is highly soluble (42,200 mg/l) in water and can thus release the fluoride more readily upon contact with water. Although there is still the need for further data and a more precise study on this topic in Tanzania, we can already draw a first conclusion that the intake of water during or directly following the deposition of the tephra is not advisable and should be avoided, whereas the release of fluoride from the lava flow has less influence on the river waters.

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Bosshard-Stadlin, S. A., Mattsson, H. B., Stewart, C., & Reusser, E. (2017). Leaching of lava and tephra from the Oldoinyo Lengai volcano (Tanzania): Remobilization of fluorine and other potentially toxic elements into surface waters of the Gregory Rift. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 332, 14–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2017.01.009

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