Cyanide Degradation and Detoxification in a Heap Leach

Smith, Adrian
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 13
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1988
14.1 INTRODUCTION From the time the last recoverable gold is extracted from ore on a heap leach, the ore - now spent ore - changes from being the resource, indeed the raison d'etre of the operator, to a potential liability. The spent ore contains process chemicals and constituents leached from the ore both in the interstitial pore water in the heap and on the surfaces of spent ore. If these chemical species were released to the environment, it could have a potential impact on the quality of both surface water and groundwater resources. Accordingly, the spent ore must be left in a condition where it does not present a potential environmental liability. This can be accomplished either on a decommissioned pad or, if the heap leach is operated as a load/unload scheme, in a waste facility. In general, the residual cyanide level in the spent ore is the perceived controlling factor when determining whether the leached material is suitable for abandonment. Regulatory authorities set permit conditions for heap leach abandonment in terms of residual cyanide levels, for example, Smith and Struhsacker (1987). This chapter discusses cyanide degradation and methods for detoxifying a heap leach in order to meet regulatory limits/permit conditions for abandonment. Cyanide degradation and detoxification by "natural" processes are described initially, based on the chemistry and geochemistry discussed in Chapter 13. This leads to a review of chemical treatment processes for detoxification of spent ore. The advantages and apparent disadvantages are then appraised. 14.2 NATURAL DEGRADATION AND DETOXIFICATION For the purposes of discussion, "natural" detoxification processes can be divided into two alternatives: • Passive abandonment (the so-called "do nothing" option); and • Water In the first alternative, the spent ore is merely left on the leach pad to age; the second alternative involves the flushing of the spent ore with water.
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