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The role of efflorescent sulfate salts in Indiana’s mine water quality

January 1, 2012

Efflorescent sulfate salts (ESS), which form from evaporating acid mine drainage and occur in a wide variety of environments, can significantly alter water quality and are, therefore, important considerations for remediation strategies at coal refuse sites. Many ESS, including melanterite, rozenite, siderotil, copiapite, halotrichite, coquimbite, epsomite, potash alum, and gypsum, are known to occur in Indiana. Because they build up on the gob-pile surface during dry periods and release acidity and metals in storm flushes, it is essential to understand the mineralogical and geochemical parameters that control ESS formation and dissolution in mine settings. The Friar Tuck site, in southwestern Indiana, is an ideal location for demonstrating the role of ESS in the generation of acid mine drainage and is included as a case study in this report. Examination of two gob piles at the site (northwest and southeast), in the same setting but with different mineralogies and depositional and reclamation histories, provides a unique opportunity to consider the transferability of lessons learned about the ESS between different sites.

Hydraulic and chemical data, including data on aqueous and solid states (coal refuse and ESS), were collected from streams (adjacent to the gob piles and further downstream), seeps, surface runoff, and saturated and unsaturated groundwater at the northwest and southeast gob piles during 1988–89 and 1990–92, respectively. Samples were analyzed in the field for bulk indicators and in a laboratory (Indiana Geological Survey, Geochemistry Section) for concentrations of major and trace elements.

Values of pH and specific conductance at the southeast gob pile indicated a trend of declining water quality with duration of the dry season, followed by dilution and improved water quality during the wet season; similar observations were made at the northwest gob pile. Concentrations of key water-quality indicators for the northwest and southeast gob piles show that acidity and concentrations of sulfate and iron are notably lower in the surface runoff and groundwater in saturated and unsaturated refuse at the southeast gob pile compared to the northwest gob pile. The dissolution of ESS is likely the cause for the decrease in water quality at both gob piles, but it has a greater effect at the northwest gob pile.

The results of this study indicate that some generalizations about the effect of ESS on water quality (for example, the conditions that favor the precipitation of specific ESS; the development of acidic, metal-rich drainage; and so on) can be transferred from one coal-waste site to another. However, the specific geochemistry of the gob pile, the age and history of refuse, the source rock, and the coal-processing and reclamation activities at the specific site will determine the extent to which the processes described in this and other papers can be applied to unstudied gob piles.


Citation Information

Publication Year 2012
Title The role of efflorescent sulfate salts in Indiana’s mine water quality
Authors Jeane Pope, E.R. Bayless, G. Olyphant, T. Branam
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 70157177
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Indiana Water Science Center