The Cause and Effects of Acid Mine Drainage

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The Cause and Effects of Acid Mine Drainage

INTRODUCTION

Imagine going fishing on a cool Autumn day, the trees are all different shades of orange, brown and red and the birds are singing their beautiful songs, but their is a serious problem because when you arrive at the river all plant and animal life are gone. This is by no means a recent phenomenon. This is due to the effects of acid rock drainage (ARD). This is a problem that has been occurring since ancient times, but it was not until the 1800's when fast growing industrialization and heavy mining that it caught a lot

of attention.
Acid rock drainage is the term used to describe leachate, seepage, or drainage that has been affected by the natural oxidation of sulfur minerals contained in rock which is exposed to air and water. The major components of ARD formation are reactive sulfide minerals, oxygen, and water. Biological activity and reactions is what is responsible for the production of ARD. These reactions make low pH water that has the ability to mobilize heavy metals contained in geological materials with which it comes in contact. "ARD causes a devastating impact on the quality of the ground or surface water it discharges to. (Ellison & Hutchison)"

ACID MINE DRAINAGE

Within the mining process there are several sources that cause ARD. No matter what activities occur, ARD usually occurs when certain conditions are met. These conditions are the factors that limit or accelerate the release of ARD. The initial release of ARD can occur anywhere from a few months to many decades after the sulfide containing material is disturbed or deposited. ARD has been associated with mines since mining began. When ARD occurs due to the effects of mining it is called acid mine drainage, or AMD. The coal mining industry here in the eastern United States has been associated with a major source of AMD for decades. When water comes in contact with pyrite in coal and the rock surrounding it, chemical reactions take place which cause the water to gain acidity and to pick up iron, manganese and aluminum. Water that comes into contact with coal has a orange-red yellow and sometimes white color. The metals stay in the solution beneath the earth due to the lack of oxygen. When the water comes out of the mine or the borehole it reacts with the oxygen in the air or some that may be deposited in the stream and deposits the iron, manganese and aluminum and deposits it on the rocks and the stream bed. Each of the chemicals in acid mine drainage is toxic to fish and aquatic insects in moderate concentrations. At real high concentrations all plant life is killed.

"Underground mines that are likely to result in ARD are those where mining is located above the water table. (Kelly 1988)" Most of the mines are also located in mountainous terrain. "Underground workings usually result in a ground water table that has been lowered significantly and permanently. (Kelly 1988)" Mining also helps in the breaking of rock exposing more surface area to oxidation.

OTHER SOURCES OF ARD

ARD is not necessarily confined to these mining activities. "Any process, natural or anthropogenic, that exposes sulfide- bearing rock to air and water will cause it to occur. (Ellison & Hutchison)" There are examples of natural ARD where springs produce acidic water. These are found near outcrops of sulfide-bearing rock, but not all exposing sulfide rock will result in ARD formation. "Acid drainage will not occur if sulfide minerals are nonreactive, the rock contains sufficient alkaline material to neutralize any acid produced, or the climate is arid and there is not adequate rainfall infiltration to cause leakage. (Ellison & Hutchison 1992)"

CHEMISTRY

"The most important factor in determining the extent of the acid mine drainage is not the pH, but the total acidity. (Ellison &Hutchison 1992)" Total acidity is a measure of the excess amount of H+ ions over other ions in...
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