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Comparison of Sulfide Oxidation in Unweathered Pyritic Mine Tailings

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  • The study focuses on sulfide oxidation processes in unweathered pyrite-rich mine tailings from a soil-covered impoundment in northern Sweden. To simulate the oxygen-limited conditions in water saturated tailings two long-term column experiments were performed. Results are presented for the first 11 months of the experiments at room temperature. The tailings used in the experiments were of two different grain sizes (one coarse grained, in the range 0.02 - 0.6 mm with a grain surface area of 1.86 m2 g-1, and one fine-grained, in the range 0.0015 - 0.06 mm with a grain surface area of 10.00 m2 g-1) and with slightly different mineralogical composition. The S:Fe molar ratio in the leachates (1.0 - 1.5) indicates either that pyrrhotite is the main iron sulfide undergoing oxidation in our experiments, or, alternatively that the S:Fe molar ratio in the leachate is determined by pyrite weathering in conjunction with other processes releasing iron or immobilising sulfate. However, speciation modelling of the leachates indicates that ferrihydrite was close to saturation, suggesting that a ferric oxyhydroxide may have dissolved/ precipitated during the experimental period, thereby affecting the S:Fe molar ratio. Pyrite oxidation rates obtained from the two column experiments during ‘steady-state’ were 2.25 × 10-13 and 8.45 × 10-14 mol m-2 s -1 in the coarse and fine tailings, respectively. Pyrrhotite oxidation rates, as an alternative, were 2.31 × 10-12 and 1.24 × 10-11 mol m-2 s -1 in the coarse and fine tailings, respectively. Natural microbial activity was confirmed in both the tailings and the leachates; therefore, the obtained oxidation rates are not strictly abiotic. It is thus concluded, based on the experimental results, that tailing heterogeneity will result in zones with different oxidation rates, related to their physical and chemical properties.

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