The former zinc smelter site ‘de Maatheide’ in Lommel (Belgium) was severely polluted with heavy metals and the pollution spread into the surroundings by rain water leaching and wind transportation. This study focuses on the processes of immobilization and natural attenuation that took place on the site. Three important factors were found. Firstly, the high pH values (pH 7–8) in the topsoil influence the mobility of heavy metals. Secondly, the spodic horizons below the polluted top layer seem to accumulate heavy metals, thereby slowing down their release into the environment. Finally, the glassy phases and iron oxi/hydroxides that are present can encapsulate heavy metals during their formation/recrystallization, thereby immobilizing them. An additional shielding effect results from the reaction rims of goethite around the contaminant phases, which partially inhibit the weathering process and release of contaminants. This shielding effect is an important factor to take into account when modelling contaminant release.