Large volumes of waste rock and mine tailings are stored at mine sites. Predicting the environmental impact of these wastes requires an understanding of mineral–water interaction and the characterization of the solid materials at the microscopic scale. The tendency of mine wastes to produce acid or neutral drainage containing potentially toxic metals generally reflects the ratio of primary sulfide to carbonate minerals and the trace element concentrations inherited from the ore deposit, as well as any ore processing that may have created new compounds. Whether potentially toxic elements are released to surface water, groundwater, or bodily fluids (in the case of ingestion or inhalation) depends on the host mineral and the possibility of sequestration by secondary minerals.

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