An attempt to use LA-ICP-SMS to quantify enrichment of trace elements on pyrite surfaces in oxidizing mine tailings

Öhlander, B., Müller, B., Axelsson, M., Alakangas, L.
Journal of Geochemical Exploration


Metals released from oxidation and weathering of sulphide minerals in mine tailings are to a high degree retained at deeper levels within the tailings themselves. To be able to predict what could happen in the future with these secondarily retained metals, it is important to understand the retention mechanisms. In this study an attempt to use laser ablation high-resolution ICP-MS (LA-ICP-SMS) to quantify enrichment of trace elements on pyrite surfaces in mine tailings was performed. Pyrite grains were collected from a profile through the pyrite-rich tailings at the Kristineberg mine in northern Sweden. At each spot hit by the laser, the surface layer was analyzed in the first shot, and a second shot on the same spot gave the chemical composition of the pyrite immediately below. The crater diameter for a laser shot was known, and by estimating the crater depth and total pyrite surface, the total enrichment on pyrite grains was calculated. Results are presented for As, Cd, Co, Cu, Ni and Zn. The results clearly show that there was an enrichment of As, Cd, Cu and Zn on the pyrite surfaces below the oxidation front in the tailings, but not of Co and Ni. Arsenic was also enriched on the pyrite grains that survived in the oxidized zone. Copper has been enriched on pyrite surfaces in unoxidized tailings in the largest amount, followed by Zn and As. However, only 1.4 to 3.1% of the Cd and Zn released by sulphide oxidation in the oxidized zone have been enriched on the pyrite surfaces in the unoxidized tailings, but for As and Cu corresponding figures are about 64 and 43%, respectively. There were many uncertainties in these calculations, and the results shall not be taken too literally but allowed the conclusion that enrichment on pyrite surfaces is an important process for retention of As and Cu below the oxidation front in pyrite rich tailings. Laser ablation is not a surface analysis technique, but more of a thin layer method, and gives no information on the type of processes resulting in enrichment on the pyrite surfaces. Although only pyrite grains that appeared to be fresh and without surface coatings were used in this study, the possibility that a thin layer of Fe-hydroxides occurred must be considered. Both adsorption to the pyrite directly or to Fe-oxyhydroxides may explain the enrichment of As, Cd, Cu and Zn on the pyrite surfaces, and, in the case of Cu, also the replacement of Fe(II) by Cu(II) in pyrite.