Mobility of arsenic and environmentally significant elements in mine tailings following liming
Noble, TL and Lottermoser, BG and Townsend, AT, Mobility of arsenic and environmentally significant elements in mine tailings following liming, Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, 63, (6) pp. 781-793. ISSN 0812-0099 (2016) [Refereed Article]
Remediation of a legacy tin-tailings site in northeast Tasmania, Australia was carried out by statutory authorities. This study evaluated the fate of As and other deleterious trace metals Cd, Cu, Fe and Zn (among others) following the application of lime and fertiliser. Arsenic concentrations in the tailings ranged from 86 mg/kg to 0.26 wt%. Surface application of lime resulted in a 100-fold reduction in dissolved As concentrations in on-site surface waters; from an average of 196 µg/L prior to lime addition, to between 2.0 and 7.4 µg/L post-amendment. The concentration of other deleterious elements, however, varied between dry and wet cycles. The concentrations of Cd, Cu and Zn in surface waters were high and similar to pre-remediation levels during dry conditions (0.4, 13.5 and 6.1 mg/L, respectively), and only below freshwater ecosystem protection values during wet conditions. Bioaccumulation of Cd was observed in the naturally occurring coloniser, Juncus pallidus, with 4–5 times more Cd in the above-ground biomass relative to the tailings. Ferric arsenate (scorodite) was the dominant source of As identified in the tailings mineralogy. Hydrous ferric oxides and Fe-bearing cassiterite were also identified as hosting As. The pH increase in the surface lime-amended tailings was inferred to result in precipitation of observed hydrous ferric oxides, hematite and goethite, providing high-surface area for adsorption of arsenate onto positively charged surfaces. Jarosite was observed in both the surface lime-amended and subsurface non-amended tailings and suggests a continued supply of acidity to the pore waters despite the application of lime. Leaching experiments showed that As was more mobile in the lime-dosed tailings than in subsurface non-amended tailings, likely owing to desorption in alkaline pH conditions. By contrast, the mobility of Cd, Cu and Zn in the surface lime-amended tailings was reduced by at least two orders of magnitude compared with subsurface non-amended tailings. Evaluation of the applied rehabilitation strategy highlights the limits of a single chemical remediation approach to a polymetallic (including metalloids) waste with complex mineralogy and large seasonal fluctuations. Rehabilitation of metalliferous mine sites requires a complete understanding of all environmentally significant elements and their pathways into local receptors.