Geochemical effects of soil cover remediation on sulphide-rich tailings at the Kristineberg mine, northern Sweden

Sammanfattning: Remediation of mine waste by the application of till cover is one of the more common methods used in Sweden to prevent oxidation of sulphide-rich minerals. Although the general conclusion from Swedish state-of-the-art field studies is that dry covers may be effective, they are expensive to construct. Further investigations are also needed to understand the processes occurring in till covered waste deposits. The Kristineberg mining area has been chosen as the main field site for the research program MiMi (Mitigation of the environmental impact of mining waste) funded by the Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (MISTRA). MiMi focuses on finding new and improved methods to mitigate the environmental problems related to mining operations and disposal of mining waste. An extensive sampling programme was carried out in Kristineberg during 1998 and 1999. The Kristineberg mine is a Boliden mine, located within the Skellefte ore field. It is a Zn-Cu deposit developed in the 1940s and still in production. This thesis consists of three papers outlining the geochemical conditions prevailing in tailings Impoundment 1 at the Kristineberg mine, after remediation by applying till cover. The impoundment investigated was in use until the early 1950s and it was remediated in 1996. Two different remediation methods have been used; in the area with a shallow groundwater table 1.0 m of till was used to raise the groundwater table above the tailings. In other areas, with a deeper groundwater table, a sealing layer consisting of a 0.3 m thick layer of a compacted clayey till underlying a 1.5 m thick protective cover of unspecified till was used. Field studies include sampling of solid tailings, saturated tailings pore water as well as pore water from the vadose zone. Laboratory investigations consist of a five-step sequential extraction on solid tailings samples. Pre-remediation oxidation has resulted in a zonation of the tailings with an upper oxidised zone above unoxidised tailings. Just below the oxidation front, there is a secondary enrichment of especially Cu but also of other elements. Metals released by sulphide oxidation were thus secondarily enriched. Tailings remediated by the combination of a till cover and a raised groundwater table, resulted in a remobilisation of metals around and a few metres below the former oxidation front. Although the concentrations of several elements still are high in the pore water, they are lower than before the remediation. The general conclusion is that the remediation has succeeded in preventing further oxidation in this part of the impoundment. Sequential extractions performed on selected samples from the drilling of the impoundment show that most of the remaining sulphide-associated trace elements in the oxidised zone still belong to the sulphide fraction. At the level of the peaks of metal concentrations in the pore water (and the solid secondary enrichment) substantial concentrations of the trace elements Cd, Co, Cu, Ni, and Zn is present in the adsorbed/exchangeable/carbonatefraction. Other trace elements are retained with other secondary formations such as amorphous or crystalline iron oxyhydroxides e.g., As, Ba, and Pb. Especially the adsorbed/exchangeable/carbonate fraction is easily dissolved and the raised groundwater table remobilise these trace elements into the pore water, as could be seen from the pore water extractions. In Impoundment 1, where the sealing layer was applied, sampling of the infiltrating water was performed by tension lysimeters. Tension lysimeters were installed in the protective till cover, in the oxidised tailings, in the uppermost unoxidised tailings and at an intermediate depth. The groundwater at the same location was also sampled. The tension lysimeters in the till protective cover contained relatively low concentrations of most elements. Elements such as Al, Cd, Co, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, S, Si, and Zn had the highest concentrations in the second tension lysimeter in the tailings. Between the second and the third tension lysimeters the concentration of most elements decreased. The increase between the first and the second tension lysimeters can be explained by remobilisation of secondarily retained oxidation products. The decrease between the second and the third tension lysimeters is interpreted as co-precipitation with different iron oxyhydroxides as well as adsorption onto secondarily formed minerals and primary mineral surfaces. Between the deepest tension lysimeter and the groundwater table, the element concentrations decrease further. Most of the pre-remediation oxidation products that are secondarily retained below the oxidation front and are released by the small amount of infiltrating water, is tertiarily retained during continued downward transport. Thus, if the depth to the groundwater table is large enough, the metals released by infiltrating water do not reach it.

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