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Ephemeral acid mine drainage at the Montalbion silver mine, north Queensland

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Sulfide‐rich materials comprising the waste at the abandoned Montalbion silver mine have undergone extensive oxidation prior to and after mining. Weathering has led to the development of an abundant and varied secondary mineral assemblage throughout the waste material. Post‐mining minerals are dominantly metal and/or alkali (hydrous) sulfates, and generally occur as earthy encrustations or floury dustings on the surface of other mineral grains. The variable solubility of these efflorescences combined with the irregular rainfall controls the chemistry of seepage waters emanating from the waste dumps. Irregular rainfall events dissolve the soluble efflorescences that have built up during dry periods, resulting in ‘first‐flush' acid (pH 2.6–3.8) waters with elevated sulfate, Fe, Cu and Zn contents. Less‐soluble efflorescences, such as anglesite and plumbojarosite, retain Pb in the waste dump. Metal‐rich (Al, Cd, Co, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, Zn) acid mine drainage waters enter the local creek system. Oxygenation and hydrolysis of Fe lead to the formation of Fe‐rich precipitates (schwertmannite, goethite, amorphous Fe compounds) that, through adsorption and coprecipitation, preferentially incorporate As, Sb and In. Furthermore, during dry periods, evaporative precipitation of hydrous alkali and metal sulfate efflorescences occurs on the perimeter of stagnant pools. Flushing of the streambed by neutral pH waters during heavy rainfall events dissolves the efflorescences resulting in remobilisation and transport of sulfate and metals (particularly Cd, Zn) downstream. Thus, in areas of seasonal or irregular rainfall, secondary efflorescent minerals present in waste materials or drainage channels have an important influence on the chemistry of surface waters.
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Keywords: acid mine drainage; efflorescence; ephemeral streams; heavy metals; oxidation; sulfides

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Earth Sciences, James Cook University, PO Box 6811, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia 2: Département de géologie et de génie géologique, Université Laval, Québec, QC, G1K 7P, Canada

Publication date: October 1, 2003

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