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What's weathering? Mineralogy and field leach studies in mine waste, Leadville and Montezuma mining districts, Colorado

March 30, 2006

Weathering is important in the development of rock fabrics that control porosity in mine-waste materials, and in turn, porosity affects metal transport through and from mine-waste piles into watersheds. Mine-waste piles are dynamic physical and chemical systems as evidenced by remnant Fe-oxide boxwork structures after sulfide minerals, development of alteration rinds and etch pits on grains, and precipitation of secondary minerals under low temperature conditions. These microscale changes in the mine-waste materials are the result of partial to total dissolution of sulfide and other minerals. Mine-waste materials from the Dinero, Lower Chatauqua, and Saints John sites, Leadville and Montezuma mining districts, Colorado, exhibit rock fabrics that indicate that weathering products, e.g., Fe oxyhydroxides, jarosite, and clays, have been transported in suspension through the waste piles and deposited in voids and as coatings on rock fragments. Microscale characterization of weathered, partially dissolved minerals lends insight into the source of leachable metals in these mine-waste sites. Mineralogic studies show that galena in the Lower Chatauqua waste is enriched in Ag. Qualitative and semiquantitative microanalysis of weathered, altered galena grains from all three sites show that the Ag-bearing galena is more susceptible to dissolution. It is not surprising, then, that solutions experimentally leached from Lower Chatauqua waste are higher in Pb (2310 ppb) compared to leachates from the Dinero (31 ppb) and Saints John (1360 ppb) wastes. The mobility of metals is increased at acidic pH. Using the USGS Field Leach Test protocol, leachate derived from the Dinero waste has a pH of 3 and high concentrations of Al (443 ppb), Fe (441 ppb), and Zn (7970 ppb). Leachate from Sts. John tailings has a pH about 4 and high concentrations of Mn (1520 ppb), Zn (2240 ppb), and Pb (1360 ppb). Leachate from the Lower Chatauqua waste has an intermediate pH of 5, but in addition to the high Pb level already mentioned, it contains high levels of K (1.9 ppm), Mn (6720 ppb), and Zn (1550 ppb). The high concentration of metals, despite the intermediate pH of the leachate, may be explained by acidic microenvironments that exist at the surfaces of sulfide minerals, where sulfur-and iron-oxidizing microbes may flourish. It is at the reactive mineral-oxygen-water interface where metals are released and low-pH sulfate precipitates such as jarosite-beudantite form.

Publication Year 2006
Title What's weathering? Mineralogy and field leach studies in mine waste, Leadville and Montezuma mining districts, Colorado
Authors S. F. Diehl, Phil L. Hageman, Kathleen S. Smith
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70142595
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse