Acid Mine Drainage

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Acid Mine Drainage – Causes Effects And Solutions Essay, Research Paper For hundreds, even thousands of years, human beings have mined for metals and stones, and with the advent of greater technology as well as greater needs, the demands for these resources continue to grow. While these resources benefit our lives in many ways, the effects of mining can be detrimental, and one such effect is the topic of this essay, acid mine drainage (A.M.D.). The causes of A.M.D. will be discussed, along with some of the physical and biological problems associated with it. Some prevention and remediation treatments will also be considered. Acid mine drainage refers to water (leachate, drainage or seepage) that has come into contact with oxidised rocks or overburden that contains sulphide

material (coal, zinc, copper, lead). (Keller, 2000; U.S.G.S.; U.S.E.P.A., 2002). A common sulphide is pyrite, or iron disulfide (FeS2), and throughout this essay it will be pyrite that will be the primary sulphide considered. Acid mine drainage is not a new phenomenon, early mining techniques utilized gravity to avoid water pooling, resulting in the water becoming polluted by acid, iron, sulphur and aluminium (U.S.E.P.A., 2002). It is most commonly associated with coal mining, especially with soft coal, coal that has high sulphur content. The pyrite that is present in coal seams will be accessible after surface mining when the overlying surfaces are removed or in deep mines that allow oxygen access to the previously inaccessible pyrite-containing coal (D.E.P. 1, 1997). After

pyrite is exposed to air and water, sulphuric acid and iron hydroxide are formed, creating an acidic runoff (D.E.P. 1, 1997; 2 2002). When the water comes into contact with the pyrite, the chemical reactions that take place causes the water to increase in pH which will dissolve heavy metals which stay in solution. However, when the pH levels reach a certain stage, the iron can then precipitate out, coating sediments with the characteristic yellow, red or orange colourings (D.E.P. 2, 2002; U.S.G.S.; U.S.E.P.A., 2002). The rate that A.M.D. advances is also influenced by the presence of certain bacteria (Doyle; U.S.G.S). A.M.D that has dissolved heavy metals such as copper, lead and mercury can contaminate ground and surface water. Especially at risk are mines that are located above

the water table (Keller, 2000; D.E.P. 2, 2002). The sources of water that get polluted can be surface water that permeates into the mine, shallow ground water flowing through the mine or any water that comes into contact with the waste tailings produced by mines. Contamination of the water poses risks to health and integrity of structures, as well as economical loss. In high quantities, heavy metals can affect plant life. Not only is the A.M.D. detrimental to the health of the plant, plants that uptake heavy metals will pass them onto animals within the food chain. Growth and reproduction can be adversely affected in both aquatic animals and in terrestrial animals where drinking water is contaminated. Aquatic species are most at risk, as many are not tolerant of pH fluctuations,

with most species having a defined pH tolerance range. Physical structures can be compromised as acid corrodes infrastructures such as bridges (D.E.P. 2, 2002; Keller, 2000; U.S.G.S.; U.S.E.P.A., 2002). Economically, areas affected by A.M.D. can suffer through reduced tourism due to pollution; a decline in recreational sports such as fishing, swimming and other outdoor activities (U.S.E.P.A., 2002). Acid mine drainage is particularly hazardous in mines that are now abandoned. A poignant example is that of the Tar Creek area of Oklahoma in the United States of America. During the late nineteenth century the area was mined for lead and zinc and mining continued until around 1960. The mines reached down to 100m below the water table and while mining occurred the subsurface