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Acidity and alkalinity in mine drainage: Theoretical considerations

December 31, 2004

Acidity, net acidity, and net alkalinity are widely used parameters for the characterization of mine drainage, but these terms are not well defined and are often misunderstood. Incorrect interpretation of acidity, alkalinity, and derivative terms can lead to inadequate treatment design or poor regulatory decisions. We briefly explain derivations of theoretical expressions of three types of alkalinities (caustic, phenolphthalein, and total) and acidities (mineral, CO2, and total). Theoretically defined total alkalinity is closely analogous to measured alkalinity and presents few practical interpretation problems. Theoretically defined “CO2- acidity” is closely related to most standard titration methods used for mine drainage with an endpoint pH of 8.3, but it presents numerous interpretation problems, and it is unfortunately named because CO2 is intentionally driven off during titration of mine-drainage samples. Using the proton condition/massaction approach and employing graphs for visualization, we explore the concept of principal components and how to assign acidity contributions to solution species, including aqueous complexes, commonly found in mine drainage. We define a comprehensive theoretical definition of acidity in mine drainage on the basis of aqueous speciation at the sample pH and the capacity of these species to undergo hydrolysis to pH 8.3. This definition indicates the computed acidity in milligrams per liter (mg L-1 ) as CaCO3 (based on pH and analytical concentrations of dissolved FeIII , FeII , Mn, and Al in mg L-1 ): Aciditycomputed = 50. (10(3-pH) + 3.CFeIII/55.8 + 2.CFeII/55.8 + 2.CMn/54.9 + 3.CAl/27.0) underestimates contributions from HSO4 - and H+ , but overestimates the acidity due to Fe3+. These errors tend to approximately cancel each other.

We demonstrate that “net alkalinity” is a valid mathematical construction based on theoretical definitions of alkalinity and acidity. We demonstrate that, for most mine-drainage solutions, a useful net alkalinity value can be derived from: 1) alkalinity and acidity values based on aqueous speciation, 2) measured alkalinity - computed acidity, or 3) taking the negative of the value obtained in a standard method “hot peroxide” acidity titration, provided that labs report negative values. We recommend the third approach; i.e., Net alkalinity = - Hot Acidity.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2004
Title Acidity and alkalinity in mine drainage: Theoretical considerations
DOI 10.21000/JASMR04011076
Authors Carl S. Kirby, Charles A. Cravotta
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 70189375
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization