Abstract

Acid mine waters, often containing toxic concentrations of Fe, Al, Cu, Zn, Cd, Pb, Ni, Co, and Cr, can be produced from the mining of coal and metallic deposits. Values of pH for acid mine waters can range from −3.5 to 5, but even circumneutral (pH7) mine waters can have high concentrations of As, Sb, Mo, U, and F. When mine waters are discharged into streams, lakes, and the oceans, serious degradation of water quality and injury to aquatic life can ensue, especially when tailings impoundments break suddenly. The main acid-producing process is the exposure of pyrite to air and water, which promotes oxidative dissolution, a reaction catalyzed by microbes. Current and future mining should plan for the prevention and remediation of these contaminant discharges by the application of hydrogeochemical principles and available technologies, which might include remining and recycling of waste materials.

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