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Long term metal release and acid generation in abandoned mine wastes containing metal-sulphides

Nieva, N. Eugenia, Borgnino, Laura, García, M. Gabriela
Environmental pollution 2018 v.242 pp. 264-276
X-ray diffraction, copper, drainage, drinking water, electrical conductivity, energy-dispersive X-ray analysis, heavy metals, iron, laboratory experimentation, magnesium, mine tailings, minerals, oxides, pH, pollution, redox reactions, scanning electron microscopy, sediments, stream channels, sulfates, surveys, weathering, zinc, Argentina
The sulphide-rich mine wastes accumulated in tailing dumps of La Concordia Mine (Puna of Argentina) have been exposed to the weathering action for more than 30 years. Since then, a series of redox reactions have triggered the generation of a highly acidic drainage -rich in dissolved metals-that drains into the La Concordia creek. The extent of metal and acid release in the site was analysed through field surveys and laboratory experiments. Static tests were conducted in order to predict the potential of the sulphidic wastes to produce acid, while Cu-, Zn-, Fe- and Pb-bearing phases present in the wastes were identified by XRD, SEM/EDS analysis and sequential extraction procedures. Finally, the release of these metals during sediment-water interaction was assessed in batch experiments carried out in a period of nearly two years. Field surveys indicate that the prolonged alteration of the mine wastes led to elevated electrical conductivity, pH values lower than 4 and metal concentrations that exceed the guide values for drinking water in the La Concordia stream regardless of the dominating hydrological conditions. The highly soluble Fe and Mg (hydrous)sulphates that form salt crusts on the tailings surfaces and the riverbed sediments play an important role in the control of metal mobility, as they rapidly dissolve in contact with water releasing Fe, but also Cu and Zn which are scavenged by such minerals. Another important proportion of the analysed metals is adsorbed onto Fe (hydr)oxides or form less soluble hydroxysulfates. Metals present in these phases are released to water more slowly, thus representing a potential long term source of heavy metal pollution. The obtained results are a contribution to the understanding of long term metal transformations and mobility in mine waste-impacted sites.