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Environmental characteristics and utilization potential of metallurgical slag

December 8, 2017

Slag, an abundant byproduct from the pyrometallurgical processing of ores, can be an environmental liability or a valuable resource. The most common environmental impact of slag is from the leaching of potentially toxic elements, acidity, or alkalinity that may impact nearby soils and surface water and groundwater. Factors that influence its environmental behavior include physical characteristics, such as grain size and porosity, chemical composition with some slag being enriched in certain elements, the mineralogy and partitioning of elements in more or less reactive phases, water-slag interactions, and site conditions. Many of these same factors also influence its resource potential. For example, crystalline ferrous slag is most commonly used as construction aggregate, whereas glassy (i.e., granulated) slag is used in cement. Also, the calcium minerals found in ferrous slag result in useful applications in water treatment. In contrast, the high trace-element content of some base-metal slags makes the slags economically attractive for extraction of residual elements. An evaluation tool is used to help categorize a particular slag as an environmental hazard or valuable byproduct. Results for one type of slag, legacy steelmaking slag from the Chicago area in the USA, suggest the material has potential to be used for treating phosphate-rich or acidic waters; however, the pH and trace-element content of resulting solutions may warrant further examination.