HARNESSING THE POWER OF FLOCCULANTS IN THE MINING INDUSTRY

World Mining Congress
Over five decades ago Kitchener et al. in England and La Mer and Healy in the US were advancing our understanding and application of flocculants, primarily related to water treatment and filtration of sludge. This paper identifies the beneficial uses of flocculants in the mining industry and revisits some less common applications. Flocculants are used in unique ways in the mining industry: (a) to increase the effectiveness of sediment ponds to achieve discharge compliance; (b) to eliminate air emissions and costs associated with concentrate drying; (c) to reduce soil loss by applying a flocculant to erodible soils, and reducing wind and water erosion; (d) to remove/thicken metal precipitates in acid rock drainage treatment; and (e) to enhance clarification and thickening in mineral processing. The mechanism of how flocculants, coagulations and potentially-determining ions function is described and how their use can be controlled and optimized. The potential toxic effects of flocculants and coagulants when used to achieve effluent permit discharge compliance for suspended solids is discussed. A review of numerous best management practice (BMP) guidelines for the design and operation of sediment ponds treating mine site runoff to remove total suspended solids (TSS) and turbidity revealed an absence of a predictive methodology to address regulatory discharge compliance for TSS concentration, turbidity and flocculant-induced toxicity. An essential component of pond design is the need to determine whether flocculants and/or other settling aids are required based on the site-specific soil particle size distributions upslope of the pond. Procedures are provided to predict the need for settling aids and estimate pond discharge quality and downstream impact for TSS, turbidity, toxicity and sub-lethal toxicity. The need to develop BMP guidelines are discussed for (a) the application of flocculant to surface soils to reduce erosion, (b) the application of flocblocks to increase the “sediment control” aspects of erosion and sediment control, as part of the mine site erosion control plan strategy and (c) the application of flocculant to silt socks to treat mine site runoff.
Keywords: Flocculants; particles; sediments; Mines; Mine; Soil; Soils; Coagulant; Toxicity;
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