Dispersion of metal rich particles from mine tailings is an important hazard for the environment. Specially, in Mediterranean context, this is potentially more risky because of the violence of climatic events. Northern Tunisia includes about 50 mining districts with an ore mineralogy consisting mainly of galena, iron sulphides and subordinate sphalerite embedded in a calcitic and baritic gangue. A century of mining exploitation left waste rich in potentially toxic elements (PTE) with values up to 46900 mg/kg for Pb and 49501 mg/kg for Zn, stored in uncontrolled and untreated deposits. The PTE contents observed in the surrounding soils generally devoted to agricultural activities are as high as 12488 mg/kg for Pb, 3485 mg/kg for Zn and 15 mg/kg for Cd. The contents in sediments downstream are also high, in the range of 47800 mg/kg for Pb, 5767 mg/kg for Zn and 36 mg/kg for Cd. PTE-bearing phases are mainly sulphides, carbonates and iron oxyhydroxydes. Because of the lack of vegetation and the presence of fine particles in the mining wastes, PTE were dispersed to nearby areas, resulting in the contamination of agricultural soils and river sediments.
Under the Mediterranean climate which includes a long dry summer with windy episodes and heavy rainfall in the winter, mine tailings are exposed to two types of erosion: hydraulic erosion with transport during heavy rainfall events and aeolian erosion inducing fine particle dispersion. Dispersion of the PTE from mine tailings in northern Tunisia presents a risk of environmental contamination and of toxicity by inhalation for the habitants near the former mining districts. Furthermore these PTE can be transferred from agricultural soils surrounding the tailings to the cultivated plants (mainly cereals).