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Accelerated leaching of mine spoils as means of reducing specific conductivity

Transactions of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration , 2015, Vol. 338, No. 1, pp. 403-416

Smith-Hamm, S.A.; Sarver, E.A.; Cox, A.S.

Elevated total dissolved solids (TDS) content in waters downstream from surface coal mines in Central Appalachia is an increasing concern, as unnaturally high TDS and/or associated specific conductivity (SC) may contribute to deteriorated stream ecosystem health. The aim of this preliminary study was to explore the efficacy of accelerated leaching as a means of minimizing long-term TDS/SC generation by problematic overburden materials. Five spoil samples were collected and leached using simulated rainwater solutions under ambient and acidified pH conditions. SC and pH were monitored during each leach cycle, and inductively coupled plasma-mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS) was used to determine how leaching conditions affected the release of specific ions. This paper highlights the results of both jar and column leaching tests. Among the most significant findings was that for certain spoil materials, the SC in the leach column effluent was effectively reduced when the spoil was first leached with acidic rainwater followed by ambient rainwater, as opposed to leaching with ambient rainwater alone. This suggests that accelerated leaching might aid in the long-term stabilization of some materials.