Element discharge from pyritic mine tailings at limited oxygen availability in column experiments

Malmström, M.E., Gleisner, M., Herbert, R.B.
Applied Geochemistry



Sulfide mineral oxidation in mine tailings deposits poses a long term threat to surrounding ground water and surface waters. Soil or water cover remediation aims at reducing the rate of sulfide mineral oxidation by decreasing the O2 ingress rate. In this study, the authors addressed the rate of sulfide oxidation and pH buffering in ~33 months long, well-controlled laboratory studies of water saturated columns of sulfidic mine tailings from the Kristineberg site in Sweden at reduced O2 availability. The element discharge rates slowly declined towards a quasi-steady state over hundreds of days. Non-reactive tracer tests showed an anomalously large dispersion, indicating strong flow heterogeneity, possibly including preferential flow and/or stagnant water zones. Congruent dissolution of pyrite and sphalerite by injected oxidants (dissolved O2 and Fe(III)) adequately explained the discharge rate of Fe, S and Zn at quasi-steady state. Arsenic, Pb and Cu were partly retained in the tailings. Base cation discharge rates, and thus pH buffering, were apparently controlled by the rate of acidity production, with actual pH levels, available mineral surface area, and water residence times being of less importance