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Acidic Airport Drainage, 20 Years and $20 Million Worth of Experience

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  • Transport Canada (Federal Government) constructed the Halifax International Airport (HIA) near Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in the late-1950s. Site location criteria were primarily; direct access to the city and a raised flat topography. Unfortunately, the site chosen was located on shallow Meguma group pyritic slate bedrock. In 1982, during the construction of an airport taxiway, it became very apparent that acidic run-off from excavated bedrock at the site was having a negative impact on adjacent aquatic habitat. The ensuing 20 years involved many efforts to rectify the acidic drainage problem with mixed results. Some of the techniques which have been implemented at HIA to address the acid rock drainage (ARD) issue include: dry covers, wet covers, wetlands, electrochemical treatment, open limestone channels, limestone gravel polishing beds, agricultural limestone application, and two hydrated lime [Ca(OH)2] addition treatment plants, the first producing low density sludge and the new one that creates high-density sludge. Based on over 20 years of water quality monitoring data it is apparent that only certain acid drainage mitigation methods have been effective at HIA. In 2000 when the Halifax International Airport Authority (the Authority) took control of the operation and management of the airport, including the ARD issue, it was decided to construct a modern, high- density sludge, hydrated lime treatment system. This new $CAN 7 million system is now in operation and is achieving compliance with water quality guidelines. Due to high operating cost, a review of methods to optimise the system is being carried out. The HIA ARD problem, though minor by comparison to most mine sites, has provided unique challenges and may provide valuable insights into this urgent environmental and financial issue.

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