ACID MINE DRAINAGE IN THE IBERIAN PYRITE BELT: SOURCES AND REMEDIATION STRATEGIES

World Mining Congress
The Iberian Pyrite Belt (SW Spain and Portugal) contains one of the largest reserves of pyrite in the world with mining activities dating back to prehistoric times. About one hundred abandoned mine wastes and galleries release a huge acidity and metal load to the Tinto and Odiel rivers. Once the mining activity is over, polluting discharges can persists for decades or even centuries with no specific responsible entity. In-situ passive remediation technologies are especially suitable for these orphan sites. The concept is to insert a reactive porous material in the natural flow path of contaminated surface and ground waters, and it is implemented through infiltration ponds and reactive barriers, respectively. Calcium carbonate pea-size gravel is the common alkalinity supplier to neutralize acidity and precipitate metals. These remediation systems have been traditionally implemented in coal mines. However, the acid drainages from the Iberian Pyrite Belt contain metal concentrations one to two orders of magnitude higher than those from coal mines and require special designs to avoid quick clogging or passivation (coating) of the grains of reactive material. To overcome these problems, a Dispersed Alkaline Substrate (DAS) mixed from fine-grained limestone sand and a coarse inert matrix (e.g. wood chips) was developed. The small grains provide a large reactive surface and dissolve almost completely before the growing layer of precipitates passivates the substrate. The high porosity and the dispersion of nuclei for precipitation on the inert surfaces retard clogging. However, limestone dissolution only raises pH to values around 6.5, which is sufficient to precipitate the hydroxides of trivalent metals (Al, Fe), but it is not alkaline enough to remove divalent metals. Magnesium oxide, which hydrates to Mg hydroxide upon contact with water, buffers the solution pH between 8.5 and 10. A DAS system replacing limestone with caustic magnesium oxide has been tested to be very efficient to remove divalent metals (Zn, Cd, Mn, Cu, Co, Ni, Pb) from drainage previously treated with limestone.
Keywords: Systems; Treatment; metals; Waters; Water; limestone; AMD; pH; acid mine drainage;
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