A geobotanical and environmental investigation was undertaken to investigate the potential for copper
poisoning in wild ruminants within the Phalaborwa area in the Kruger National Park and to confirm
that environmental copper pollution associated with smelting operations at a nearby mine was
the source of copper responsible for the poisoning. The study area selected was divided into high,
moderate and low-risk zones and a control area based on initial topsoil copper concentrations and
impala (Aepyceros melampus) liver copper concentrations in relation to distance from the copper
smelter. Samples collected revealed that topsoil copper concentrations were significantly higher than
subsoil copper concentrations at the same sites. There was a significant linear decrease in topsoil to
subsoil copper concentration relative to distance from the copper smelter and thus from the high-risk
zone to the control area. Copper concentrations of unwashed plant material were significantly higher
than washed plant material at the same sites, indicating the deposition of copper on the plant surfaces
. Copper deposits in dust fall buckets were significantly higher downwind than upwind from the
smelter stack and the presence of atmospheric copper was also confirmed with the aid of low-volume
air sampling monitors. The investigation confirmed that the emissions from the copper smelter
were sufficient in amount and appropriate in direction to have contributed significantly to the topsoil
copper concentrations, unwashed plant copper concentrations and dust fall results.
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