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Abstract

Ground and surface water can be contaminated by the transport of soluble oxidation products from sulfidic mine waste impoundments. A program was designed whereby an impoundment that contained sulfidic waste was studied to characterize pore water in the impoundment and to determine the fate of metals as they were transported downgradient. From this information a method to control dissolved metal transport was identified.

An appropriate field site where a sulfidic tailings impoundment was releasing heavy metals into an unconsolidated aquifer was identified and characterized over a 2.5 year period. Twenty-four piezometers and two lysimeters were installed upgradient from, within, and downgradient from the impoundment. Water samples were analyzed for 12 dissolved constituents, and field measurements for pH, redox potential, dissolved oxygen, temperature, alkalinity, and conductivity were made. Dissolution probably results from oxidation of sulfide minerals in the unsaturated tailings; infiltration transports the oxidation products downward through the saturated tailings into the underlying aquifer. Beneath the impoundment, the acidic water is partially neutralized by calcareous strata; pH-sensitive species precipitate as do some oxidized species. Continuing attenuation downgradient from the impoundment correlates mostly to precipitation of and sorption by oxidized mineral species.

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