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Column Tests to Characterise the Hydrogeochemical Response of Pre-oxidised Acid-Generating Tailings with a Monolayer Cover

Pabst, Thomas, Aubertin, Michel, Bussière, Bruno, Molson, John
Water, air, and soil pollution 2014 v.225 no.2 pp. 1841
chemical analysis, climatic factors, drainage, metals, oxidation, oxygen, pH, sand, sulfates, water content, water quality, Quebec
The study presented here focuses on the use of monolayer covers for reclaiming two acid-generating tailings sites located in Quebec, Canada. One of these covers is made of non-acid-generating tailings, and the other is made of a silty sand (till). The covers are part of the closure plans that aim at controlling acid mine (rock) drainage at these two sites. Reactive tailings and cover material samples were collected in situ and characterised in the laboratory. Large-size columns (230 cm in height) were set up to evaluate the hydrogeological and geochemical response of the tailings and cover systems. Monthly wetting and drying cycles were repeated over nearly 2 years to simulate climatic conditions. Water content, suction, and oxygen concentrations were monitored, and chemical analyses were performed on the leachate collected at the base during each cycle to follow the evolution of water quality, in terms of pH and concentrations of sulfates and metals. In addition, small columns (45 cm in height) were also set up, with a similar testing program, to assess the hydrogeochemical behaviour of exposed tailings. The specific objective of this experimental program was to evaluate the hydrogeological and geochemical behaviour of the tailings-cover systems under controlled conditions. The results indicate that, for the imposed conditions, the monolayer covers became significantly desaturated, thus insufficiently limiting the oxygen diffusion flux. Consequently, these covers do not efficiently prevent sulfide oxidation within the tailings. The implications of these results are also discussed.