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Evaluation of coal mine drainage and associated precipitates for radium and rare earth element concentrations

June 14, 2024

Coal mine drainage (CMD) and associated metal-rich precipitates have recently been proposed as unconventional sources of rare earth elements (REEs). However, the potential occurrence of radium (Ra), a known carcinogen, with the REE-bearing phases has not been investigated. We hypothesized that Ra may occur in solids that are precipitated from CMD as a “radiobarite” solid solution ((Ba,Sr,Ra)SO4) and/or adsorbed with hydrous metal oxides. REEs have been documented to sorb or co-precipitate with iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), and aluminum (Al) oxyhydroxide in CMD solids. Likewise, Ra has been documented to sorb to hydrous Fe and Mn oxides especially where sulfate (SO4) and/or barium (Ba) concentrations are insufficient to precipitate radiobarite. Thus, we conducted the first-ever survey of Ra concentrations in corresponding CMD water and solid samples in the United States. Samples were analyzed from 4 untreated and 9 treated CMD sites in both the bituminous and anthracite coal regions of Pennsylvania across a range of pH and SO4 concentrations. The dissolved Ra in CMD was relatively low (<0.5 Bq/L), consistent with radiobarite solubility; however, CMD solids were largely composed of amorphous Fe, Al, and Mn oxyhydroxide and silicate minerals. Ra was associated with Mn-enriched CMD solids, upwards of 875 Bq/kg. Total REE + yttrium (Y) content in the CMD solids was enriched upwards of 3600 mg/kg and was significantly correlated with Al content. These preliminary results suggest that REE extraction may target Al-rich solids to avoid Ra in Mn-rich solids.

    Publication Year 2024
    Title Evaluation of coal mine drainage and associated precipitates for radium and rare earth element concentrations
    DOI 10.1016/j.coal.2024.104547
    Authors Bonnie McDevitt, Charles A. III Cravotta, Ryan J. McAleer, John C Jackson, Aaron M. Jubb, Glenn D. Jolly, Benjamin C. Hedin, Nathaniel R. Warner
    Publication Type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Series Title Journal of International Coal Geology
    Index ID 70255319
    Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
    USGS Organization Eastern Energy Resources Science Center; Geology, Energy & Minerals Science Center