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The use of synthetic jarosite as an analog for natural jarosite

January 1, 2006

The presence of jarosite in soil or mining waste is an indicator of acidic sulfate-rich conditions. Physical and chemical properties of synthetic jarosites are commonly used as analogs in laboratory studies to determine solubility and acid-generation of naturally occurring jarosites. In our work we have mineralogically and chemically characterized both natural and synthetic jarosites. Analysis of 32 natural hydrothermal and supergene K- and Na-jarosites indicates no (< 5 mole %) solid solution between K and Na end members. Instead, our detailed study of cell dimensions and composition reveals discrete mixtures of K and Na end members. Hydronium-bearing jarosite was detected in only one natural sample, and it appears that hydronium-bearing jarosites are metastable. Although the presence of hydronium in jarosite cannot be directly measured, we found that when synthetic hydronium-bearing jarosites are heated at 120°C for 78 days or 240°C for 24 hours, Fe(OH)SO4 is formed. The Fe(OH)SO4 is easily detected by X-ray diffraction and, hence, can be used as a post-mortem indicator of the presence of hydronium jarosite. Results from our synthetic jarosite studies indicate that natural metastable hydronium-bearing jarosite or iron-deficient forms of natural jarosite likely play an important role in acid generation in some mining wastes, but are not accurately represented by synthetic jarosite prepared by commonly used methods. The widespread practice of heating to at least 110°C after jarosite synthesis appears to drive off structural waters from protonated hydroxyl sites, which changes the properties of the jarosite. Therefore, synthetic jarosite should not be heated above 95 oC if it is to be used as an analog for low-temperature natural jarosite in mining wastes.