Geochemistry of the Processes that Attenuate Acid Mine Drainage in Wetlands
Published:January 01, 1997
Katherine Walton-Day, 1997. "Geochemistry of the Processes that Attenuate Acid Mine Drainage in Wetlands", The Environmental Geochemistry of Mineral Deposits: Part A: Processes, Techniques, and Health Issues Part B: Case Studies and Research Topics, G.S. Plumlee, M.J. Logsdon, L.F. Filipek
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Because conventional treatment of acid-mine drainage (AMD) involves installation and maintenance of water treatment plants, regulators and mine operators have sought lower cost and lower maintenance technologies. One ecological engineering technology that has received increasing research attention is the use of natural and constructed wetlands for remediation of some of the water-quality problems associated with AMD. As surface water flows through a wetland, several processes can occur to decrease the elevated concentrations of sulfate, trace metals, arsenic, and hydrogen ions that characterize AMD. These processes range from precipitation of mineral phases to the active uptake of solutes by vegetation. The relative importance of these processes between different wetlands depends on the hydrologic and geochemical characteristics of the wetlands.
This paper describes the geochemistry of the processes that contribute to AMD attenuation in wetlands and presents some of the case studies that have identified these processes. The attenuation of AMD in wetlands has been studied in natural and in man- made (constructed) wetlands. In this paper, case studies of both are presented. A discussion of some of the general characteristics of wetlands is followed by more detailed discussions of the processes and geochemistry that contribute to the treatment of AMD in wetlands, relevant case studies, and a brief discussion of constructed wetland design. The physical, chemical, and hydrologic characteristics of a wetland that affect its potential for supporting specific types of reactions are also emphasized.
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The Environmental Geochemistry of Mineral Deposits: Part A: Processes, Techniques, and Health Issues Part B: Case Studies and Research Topics
Environmental issues have become important, if not critical, factors in the success of proposed mining projects worldwide. In an ongoing and intense public debate about mining and its perceived environmental impacts, the mining industry points out that there are many examples of environmentally responsible mining currently being carried out (e.g., Todd and Struhsacker, 1997). The industry also emphasizes that the majority of mining-environmental problems facing society today are legacies from the past when environmental consequences of mining were poorly understood, not regulated, or viewed as secondary in importance to societal needs for the resources being extracted. On the other hand, environmental organizations (e.g., Mineral Policy Center, 1999) point to recent environmental problems, such as those stemming from open-pit gold mining at Summitville, Colorado, in the late 1980s (see Summitville summaries in Posey et al., 1995; Danielson and Alms, 1995; Williams, 1995; Plumlee, 1999), or those associated with a 1998 tailings dam collapse in Spain (van Geen and Chase, 1998), as an indication that environmental problems (whether accidental or resulting from inappropriate practices) can still occur in modern mining. Recent legislation imposing a moratorium on new mining in Wisconsin, and banning new mining in Montana using cyanide heap-leach extraction methods further underscore the seriousness of the debate and its implications for mineral resource extraction.
In this debate, one certainty exists: there will always be a need for mineral resources in developed and developing societies. Although recycling and substitution will help meet some of the worlds resource needs, mining will always be relied upon to meet the remaining needs. The challenge will be to continue to improve the ways in which mining is done so as to minimize its environmental effects.
The earth, engineering, and life sciences (which we group here under the term “earth-system sciences,” or ESS for short) provide an ample toolkit that can be drawn upon in the quest for environmentally friendly mineral resource development. The papers in this two-part volume provide many details on tools in the scientific toolkit, and how these tools can be used to better understand, anticipate, prevent, mitigate, and remediate the environmental effects of mining and mineral processing.
As with any toolkit, it is the professional’s responsibility to choose the tool(s) best suited to a specific job. By describing the tools now available, we do not mean to imply that all of these tools need even be considered at any given site, nor that