Laterally Extensive Surface Hardpans in Tailings Storage Facilities as Possible Inhibitors of Acid Rock Drainage

Agnew, Mandy ; Taylor, Graham
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 10
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2000
Hardpans developing in tailings storage facilities (TSF) in Australia have been investigated in relation to Acid Rock Drainage (ARD) generation. This research had three main aims. Firstly it was to obtain an understanding of the physical and chemical characteristics of tailings residues which support the in-situ formation of cemented layers and hardpans. Secondly it was to examine how effective hardpans are at reducing ARD generation, and thirdly it was to investigate the promotion of hardpan formation to inhibit ARD and pollutant generation. This paper presents the data collected during investigations into the effectiveness of hardpans to reduce ARD generation. Three basic types of hardpans have been identified and examined: laterally extensive surface hardpans, laterally extensive cemented layers; and laterally discontinuous hardpans developing in locations of seepage. Their mineralogy, morphology, lateral extent, depth and rate of formation are dictated by sulfide and gangue mineralogy and content, milling and depositional techniques of the tailings and the climate. As the sulfides oxidise, acid and heavy metals are generated, while gangue mineral degradation is enhanced, adding to elemental loads. These liberated ions are then available for precipitation of secondary mineral cements through concentration during evaporation. In TSFs where hardpan development is restricted by mineralogy, grain size or climate, hardpan formation can be enhanced in seepage zones (eg. seepage from waste rock dumps) where tailings are exposed to seepage waters laden with heavy metals and sulfate. The effectiveness of hardpans in the inhibition of ARD generation is dependent on reducing oxygen diffusion and water infiltration into the underlying tailings. A reduction in water infiltration will diminish the transport of contaminants developed during sulfide oxidation and subsequent reactions. Water and gas movement through the hardpans at the CSA (Cu, Zn, Pb) and Elura (Pb, Zn, Ag) mines has been investigated. Permeability tests indicate the hardpans have reduced the infiltration rates by 10 to 100 times that of the fresh tailings. Oxygen diffusion rates were calculated and were shown to be up to 1000 times lower in hardpans than in fresh tailings. Such decreases are explained by persistent elevated 'degrees of saturation' within the hardpans. These conditions were verified using a conceptual model of sulfide oxidation reactions, which allowed comparisons of diffusion coefficients with modelled and observed depths of oxidation within the tailings impoundments.
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