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Incongruent weathering of Cd and Zn from mine tailings: a column leaching study

Kossoff, David and Hudson-Edwards, Karen A. and Dubbin, W.E. and Alfredsson, M.A. (2011) Incongruent weathering of Cd and Zn from mine tailings: a column leaching study. Chemical Geology 281 (1-2), pp. 52-71. ISSN 0009-2541.

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The weathering of discharged mine tailings can contaminate groundwaters, rivers and floodplains with potentially toxic Cd and Zn, depending on tailings mineralogy, storage, dispersal and climatic conditions. The mechanisms of long-term tailings weathering and its influence on waste piles and floodplain environments were assessed by a column leaching experiment that incorporated tailings and soil from Potosí, Bolivia, and modelled 20 cycles of wet and dry season conditions over three calendar years. Chemical analysis of the leachate and column solids, optical mineralogy, XRD, SEM, EPMA, BCR and water-soluble chemical extractions and speciation modelling were carried out to determine the processes responsible for the leaching of Cd, Fe, S and Zn. Over this period, approximately 50 to 95% of the original Cd and 50 to 60% of the Zn were leached from the columns. Large amounts of leached Cd and Zn at the beginning of the experiment are attributed to the dissolution of soluble sulphate minerals present in the original tailings and formed after the first wetting of the columns. The Zn/Cd mass ratios of the tailings and soil, initially 429 and 400, respectively, vary considerably over the course of the experiment. Low values (between 220 and 300) in the early cycles are attributed to preferential weathering of Cd-rich wurtzite [Zn,Fe)S] and sequestration of Zn in preference to Cd in secondary Fe phases forming in the columns. In the middle cycles, dissolution of secondary Fe(OH)3 under low pH (< 3) conditions, and of ferroan (Cd-poor) sphalerite [Zn,Fe)S], releases Zn and raises the Zn/Cd ratio to 550–600 in the tailings-only columns and up to 1500 in the mixed tailings-soil columns. The very high ratios in the latter are also ascribed to the formation of low molecular weight organic ligands that have high affinity for Zn over Cd. In the later column-cycles, Zn/Cd ratios return to near-initial values, due to the weathering of Fe-poor sphalerite and secondary Fe phases, and the declining preference of Zn over Cd in the soil organic acids under the strongly acidic conditions prevailing in the columns. The formation and dissolution of secondary soluble sulphate minerals also play a role in Cd and Zn cycling, especially at the beginning of the experiment.

Item Type: Article
Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Mine tailings, Bolivia, Potosí, Zn, Cd, sphalerite, wurtzite, column leaching
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Science > Earth and Planetary Sciences
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2011 12:27
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2016 11:58

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