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Designing a Wastewater Treatment Plant to Remove Sulfate at an Iron Mine

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The sulfate anion, SO4 2−, which is traditionally considered a benign inorganic contaminant, has been largely ignored in processes designed to treat acid mine drainage (AMD)–contaminated waters, with efforts for cleanup focused more on pH adjustment and the removal of more acutely toxic inorganic contaminants such as copper, cadmium, arsenic, antimony, selenium, and other inorganic contaminants that often occur as a result of AMD. However, recent research has shown that sulfate–reducing bacteria (SRB) can generate highly toxic and bioavailable methylmercury in the environment by methylating inorganic Hg2+ and converting inorganic mercuric compounds into methylmercury, and sulfate–removal has started becoming a priority in wastewater treatment processes at various mine sites. The primary objective of this study is to design a wastewater treatment facility that will remove sulfate and total dissolved solids (TDS) at an optimal rate from a tailings basin at a taconite mine. Because of the particular water chemistry characteristics of the tailings pond water at the mine site and the treatment objectives, membrane filtration, with microfiltration (MF), nanofiltration (NF), and reverse osmosis (RO) systems, was ultimately chosen for sulfate–removal at the wastewater treatment plant. The presentation will focus on the theories behind why sulfate removal is necessary at some sites, the advantages and disadvantages of the four major established sulfate–removal treatment technologies, and the scientific and engineering rationales behind choosing a membrane removal system in this project and the detailed bench scale testing that was conducted to establish the design criteria of the full–scale membrane sulfate treatment plant.
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Keywords: NF; RO; Sulfate removal; ZLD; ettringite; gypsum; membrane filtration; methylmercury; mine water treatment; nanofiltration; reverse osmosis; zero liquid discharge

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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