Abstract

ABSTRACT

Eleven acid-sulphate and quartz-sericite-pyrite altered mine waste samples from the Animas River watershed in SW Colorado were subjected to a series of 5 to 6 successive leaches using the US EPA 1312 leach protocol to evaluate the transport of metals and loss of acidity from mine wastes as a function of time. Multi-acid digestion ICP-AES analyses, X-ray diffraction (XRD) mineral identification, total sulphur, and net acid potential (NAP) determinations were performed on the initial starting materials. Multiple leaching steps generally showed a ‘flushing' effect, whereby elements loosely bound, presumably as water-soluble salts, were removed. Aluminum, Cd, Fe, Mg, Mn, Sr, Zn, and S showed decreasing concentration trends, whereas Cu concentrations showed initially decreasing trends, followed by increasing trends in later steps. Concentrations of Zn in the first leach step were independent of whole-sample Zn content. Lead and Ba concentrations consistently increased with each step, indicating that anglesite (PbSO4) and barite (BaSO4), respectively, were dissolving in successive leach steps. Comparison of Fe content with NAP resulted in a modest correlation. However, using the S analyses and XRD identification of sulphide minerals to apportion S amongst enargite, barite, anglesite/galena, and sphalerite, and assigning the remaining S to pyrite, provided a useful correlation between estimated pyrite content and NAP. Whole-sample mass loss correlated well with NAP, but individual elements' behaviors varied between positive correlation (e.g. Al, Fe, Mg), no apparent correlation (Ca, Cd, Pb, Zn), and negative correlation (Cu). Comparison of the summed titrated acidities of the leachates with the whole-sample NAP values yielded an estimate of the fraction of NAP consumed, and led to an estimate of the time it would take to consume the sample acidity by weathering. We estimate, on the basis of these experiments, the acidity in the upper 30 cm would be consumed in 200–1000 years. In addition, calculations suggest that the acidity would be depleted before the complete store of the metals Cu-Cd-Zn in these mine wastes would be released to the environment.

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