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Characterising the In Situ Conditions Within Rehabilitated Spoils at South African Opencast Collieries

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  • Twenty-seven observation test pits were excavated at four different spoils dumps at three collieries in the Witbank Coalfield. The holes were dug into the upper three metres of the spoils to ascertain if any weathering profiles, variation with age or influence of topsoil covering could be gauged. Samples from these holes were also subjected to laboratory testing (ABA, humidity cells and mineralogy on several selected samples). The test pits showed that there was a good correlation between in situ paste pH-values and ABA results for samples taken from the pits. At all the collieries, no correlation between age of spoils and in situ acidity could conclusively be drawn. The depth of soil cover also appears to be a minor consideration in determining the eventual acidity of the spoil. In the pits where acidity was found, the weathering was evident when contrasted to areas still buffered. It is unclear if the weathering leads to the acidity or vice versa, as the soil covering appeared to be similar. The spoils proved to be extremely variable with regard to particle size and material on a micro and macro scale. Evidence from most of the holes suggested that there was enough water contained in the fine material in the spoils to support the initiation of acid generation. Conclusions from this investigation are that the mineralogy of the spoils is the most important factor in determining the eventual occurrence of acidic hotspots, and that prior characterisation and selective handling will provide the best management practice for these spoils.

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