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Geochemical and mineralogical controls on trace element release from the Penn Mine base-metal slag dump, California

January 1, 2001

Base-metal slag deposits at the Penn Mine in Calaveras County, California, are a source of environmental contamination through leaching of potentially toxic elements. Historical Cu smelting at Penn Mine (1865-1919) generated approximately 200,000 m3 of slag. The slag deposits, which are flooded annually by a reservoir used for drinking water and irrigation, also may be in contact with acidic ground waters (pH < 4) from the adjacent mine area. Slags vary from grey to black, are glassy to crystalline, and range in size from coarse sand to large (0.6 ?? 0.7 ?? 1.5 m), tub-shaped casts. Metals are hosted by a variety of minerals and two glass phases. On the basis of mineralogy, slags are characterized by 4 main types: fayalite-rich, glassy, willemite-rich, and sulfide-rich. The ranges in metal and metalloid concentrations of 17 slag samples are: As, 0.0004-0.92; Ba, 0.13-2.9; Cd, 0.0014-1.4; Cu, 0.18-6.4; Pb, 0.02-11; and Zn, 3.2-28 wt.%. Leachates from Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure tests (acetic acid buffered at pH 4.93) on two wiltemite-rich slags contained Cd and Pb concentrations (up to 2.5 and 30 mg/l, respectively) in excess of US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) regulatory limits. Analyses of filtered (0.45 ??m) water, collected within the flooded slag dump during reservoir drawdown, reveal concentrations of Cd (1.7 ??g/l), Cu (35 ??g/l), and Zn (250 ??g/l) that exceed USEPA chronic toxicity guidelines for the protection of aquatic life. Data from field and laboratory studies were used to develop geochemical models with the program EQ3/6 that simulate irreversible mass-transfer between slag deposits and reservoir waters. These models include kinetic rate laws for abiotic sulfide oxidation and surface-controlled dissolution of silicates, oxides, and glass. Calculations demonstrate that the main processes controlling dissolved metal concentrations are (1) dissolution of fayalite, willemite, and glass; (2) sulfide oxidation; and (3) secondary phase precipitation. Close agreement between model results and measured concentrations of Al, Ba, Cu, Fe, SiO2, and SO4 in the slag dump pore waters suggests that the dissolved concentrations of these elements are controlled by solubility equilibrium with secondary phases. Differences between predicted and measured Cd and Pb concentrations imply that field weathering rates of glass and sulfides are approximately two orders of magnitude lower than laboratory rates. Overprediction of Pb release may also reflect other attenuation processes in the natural system, such as sorption or coprecipitation. ?? 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication Year 2001
Title Geochemical and mineralogical controls on trace element release from the Penn Mine base-metal slag dump, California
DOI 10.1016/S0883-2927(01)00032-4
Authors M.B. Parsons, D.K. Bird, M.T. Einaudi, Charles N. Alpers
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Applied Geochemistry
Index ID 70022965
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center