Abstract

Weathering of discharged mine tailings contaminates streams, rivers and floodplains with toxic metals on a vast scale. The magnitude of the problem depends on input tailings mineralogy, storage and dispersal, and climatic conditions. To better understand the mechanisms of long-term tailings weathering, a leaching column study was established, incorporating tailings and soil from Potosí, Bolivia, with the aim of modelling a 25 year field period. The Zn/Cd molar ratio of the tailings leachate water, initially 738 for the unaltered tailings, is highly variable over 15 model years of leaching, particularly in the mixed tailings-soil columns. Columns with soil have ratios as high as 2563, while pure tailings columns reach ratios of <376. We employ complementary techniques, involving atomistic computational modelling, leachate analysis and mineralogical characterization, to elucidate the mechanisms governing these incongruent Cd and Zn weathering dynamics.

You do not currently have access to this article.