Quantification of abiotic reaction rates in mine tailings: Evaluation of treatment methods for eliminating iron- and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria

Herbert, R.B, Malmström, M., Ebenå, G., Salmon, U., Ferrow, E., Fuchs, M.
Environmental Science and Technology


Effective treatment techniques for eliminating iron-oxidizing (IOB) and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria (SOB) are required for the comparison of abiotic and microbial sulfide oxidation rates and mechanisms in mine tailings. This study evaluates the effect of autoclaving, repeated heating, ethanol treatment, antibiotic treatment, γ-radiation, and washing with deionized water on tailings characteristics and concentrations of IOB and SOB. Most probable number enumeration indicates that IOB and SOB were present at very low concentrations or below detection limits following treatment with all methods except rinsing and antibiotics treatment, where higher concentrations of IOB and SOB were present. The physical, chemical, and mineralogical characterization of the tailings indicated no changes in bulk mineralogy or bulk chemical composition as a result of treatment. However, an increase in oxidized sulfur species at the tailings surface, as determined by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, was observed for the heating, autoclaving, and antibiotics treatments. Batch weathering experiments, used to evaluate the effect of treatment on element release rates, indicated that the final element release rates (after >30 d) were similar between treated and untreated control samples. On the basis of the results of this study, experiments over relatively long periods (>30 d) are to be recommended for the establishment of microbial and abiotic weathering rates in mill tailings samples. For the determination of abiotic reaction rates, treatment by γ-radiation is suggested to be the most appropriate method for sulfide-rich tailings.