Overview of Water Treatment Technologies

Malhotra, Deepak
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 5
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1992
INTORDUCTION Mining operations are unique In that they handle large volumes of water (millions of gallons) daily. The water contains dissolved metals, processing chemicals, organics, and other contaminants, There are several sources of water contamination at mine sites: mines, mills, tailings ponds, and Industrial/utility complexes. Utility waste water generally represents a very small portion of the total process water utilized in a normal milling operation and hence will not be addressed in this paper. Mine drainage can represent a significant amount, thus having an Impact on the recovery of metals, especially In Industrial minerals operations, and may have to be treated separately. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) effluent limits are becoming more stringent, thereby requiring mining operations to treat process water prior to discharge to the environment. The general trend Is to move toward a closed-loop waste system and treat only that small fraction of process water which Is to be discharged to public lands. The following section discusses the reasons for waste water treatment and the existing and emerging technologies for meeting NPDES effluent limits. REASONS FOR WATER TREATMENT Due to the diverse nature of the mineral Industry, process/waste water contamination problems as well as processing flowsheets are site specific. However, certain generalizations can be made specific to processing of different minerals: • Acid mine drainage Is a problem at sulfide/coal mines. • Cyanide contamination of water Is a problem at gold processing plants. • Organics can be a problem at mines using flotation oils. • Tolling ponds are generally acidic at sites processing industrial minerals such as silica sand and feldspar. The cost for water treatment Is viewed as an added cost of production. Hence, large mines are moving toward dedicating personnel to management of water resources in order to minimize waste water for treatment. Very often, mines having closed-loop water systems will treat waste water for reasons other than meeting NPDES regulations. These Include situations where process requirements dictate use of high-quality water for separation of minerals, neutralization of acid mine drainage water, and portable water for the mill. WATER TREATMENT TECHNOLOGIES Water treatment process has to be cheap and simple because It has to process large volume, and It does not directly add to the bottom line, namely revenue. The water treatment process development has to be site specific because the contaminants In the water vary from site to site. and discharge limits for water vary from state to state. The current technologies for wastewater treatment have been divided Into the following three areas: • Removal of heavy metals • Cyanide destruction • Scale control A brief summary of the current technology In each area Is discussed below. Removal of Heavy Metals The physical and chemical processes for heavy metal removal are summarized in Table 1. The most common and cheapest approach has been the precipitation of hydroxides at high pH followed by sedimentation and thickening of solids. The remaining solids can be removed by filtration. The pH is adjusted back to neutral, and the water Is discharged. This process is most commonly used wastewater treatment technology in the mining industry. The basic processes can be modified by combining other operations in order to meet the objectives of the specific site as illustrated In the following examples: • AMAX's Mt. Emmons treatment facility uses Lectro Clear® process where the precipitated solids are removed by electroflotation. • AMAX's Climax Mine water treatment plant used Ion exchange columns to meet the discharge limits on molybdenum.
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