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Molybdenum and zinc stable isotope variation in mining waste rock drainage and waste rock at the Antamina mine, Peru

Skierszkan, E.K., Mayer, K.U., Weis, D., Beckie, R.D.
The Science of the total environment 2016 v.550 pp. 103-113
adsorption, drainage, isotope fractionation, minerals, mining, molybdenum, pH, soil weathering, stable isotopes, zinc, Peru
The stable isotope composition of molybdenum (Mo) and zinc (Zn) in mine wastes at the Antamina Copper–Zn–Mo mine, Peru, was characterized to investigate whether isotopic variation of these elements indicated metal attenuation processes in mine drainage. Waste rock and ore minerals were analyzed to identify the isotopic composition of Mo and Zn sources, namely molybdenites (MoS2) and sphalerites (ZnS). Molybdenum and Zn stable isotope ratios are reported relative to the NIST-SRM-3134 and PCIGR-1 Zn standards, respectively. δ98Mo among molybdenites ranged from −0.6 to +0.6‰ (n=9) while sphalerites showed no δ66Zn variations (0.11±0.01‰, 2 SD, n=5). Mine drainage samples from field waste rock weathering experiments were also analyzed to examine the extent of isotopic variability in the dissolved phase. Variations spanned 2.2‰ in δ98Mo (−0.1 to +2.1‰) and 0.7‰ in δ66Zn (−0.4 to +0.3‰) in mine drainage over a wide pH range (pH2.2–8.6). Lighter δ66Zn signatures were observed in alkaline pH conditions, which was consistent with Zn adsorption and/or hydrozincite (Zn5(OH)6(CO3)2) formation. However, in acidic mine drainage Zn isotopic compositions reflected the value of sphalerites. In addition, molybdenum isotope compositions in mine drainage were shifted towards heavier values (0.89±1.25‰, 2 SD, n=16), with some overlap, in comparison to molybdenites and waste rock (0.13±0.82‰, 2 SD, n=9). The cause of heavy Mo isotopic signatures in mine drainage was more difficult to resolve due to isotopic heterogeneity among ore minerals and a variety of possible overlapping processes including dissolution, adsorption and secondary mineral precipitation. This study shows that variation in metal isotope ratios are promising indicators of metal attenuation. Future characterization of isotopic fractionation associated to key environmental reactions will improve the power of Mo and Zn isotope ratios to track the fate of these elements in mine drainage.