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Design, Construction and Performance of a Passive Treatment System for the Reduction of Acidity and Dissolved Metals in Acid Sulfate Soil Waterways

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  • The surface waters in regions with acid sulfate soils (ASS) can contain high concentrations of acidity and dissolved metals. These soils cause problems for agriculture, construction and development. The water can be neutralised through many techniques, however a technique that is low in maintenance and low in cost is most desirable. Due to the vast spread of ASS along Australia’s coastline an expensive and high maintenance solution would not be cost-effective. In this study, a passive treatment system that has been used to neutralise acid rock drainage has been applied to treat ASS water. This system is commonly referred to as an oxic limestone drain (OLD) or an anoxic limestone drain (ALD) depending on the waters dissolved oxygen concentration. The system that has been developed for ASS has a similar closed system to the OLD or ALD, that traps the carbon dioxide which forms when limestone reacts with acidic water. It has been called a closed tank reactor (CTR) and is constructed by placing limestone into an airtight tank. A common problem that will occur when acidic water with a high concentration of dissolved metals reacts with limestone is the formation of metal oxy-hydroxide precipitates. These precipitates can coat or armour the limestone and reduce its reactivity. To minimise the accumulation of precipitates in the CTR, perforated subdrains have been installed. It is anticipated that high water pressure and flow through the subdrains will remove some precipitates. A sump has also been installed at the base of the tank to collect precipitates that settle under gravity. The CTR has been tested for 70 days at a sugar cane farm located at McLeods Creek, NSW. Within this time the sump and subdrains have been used to flush the system. An orange solution was produced during flushing and it is believed to contain iron and aluminium precipitates. The initial performance of the CTR raised pH by at least one unit. Almost all dissolved aluminium was removed and more than half the dissolved iron. The total titratable acidity ranged from 17 - 92 mg/L CaCO3 in the initial month of monitoring. After passing through the CTR the acidity was reduced to zero. The performance of the CTR during the last few days of monitoring decreased. This is believed to be due to a pulse of water with higher acidity and dissolved metal content that lasted a week. In this pulse, the acidity reached 307 mg/L CaCO3 and the total dissolved aluminium reached a maximum of 24 mg/L. Higher concentrations of dissolved metals may have been the cause for lower performance due to increased precipitation and coating on the limestone.

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