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Reducing the toxicity of gold-mine effluent using biological reactors and precipitation

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2015, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 1-5

Laliberte, M.

Gold-mine effluents are often characterized by high concentrations of copper, ammonia and cyanide derivatives (mostly cyanates and thiocyanates). While not acutely toxic to birds, this water can be acutely toxic to fishes and invertebrates. In many jurisdictions, the effluent requires further treatment in order to pass a mandatory requirement to be nonlethal to species like the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) or Daphnia magna. Using actual mine water, it has been demonstrated that aerated moving bed biofilm reactors will biodegrade the ammonia, cyanides, cyanates and thiocyanates, thereby removing the toxicity associated with these components. By removing copper by precipitation the water can be made to pass acute toxicity tests. Tests have demonstrated that the process is stable between 4 and 25°C, with no significant changes in the treated water composition. Once the biomass is acclimatized, the process is resistant to upsets and requires very little inputs except for phosphorus and air. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that an anoxic reactor can be added downstream of the aerated reactors to remove nitrates if required.