Biological and Membrane Treatment Applications for the Reduction of Specific Conductivity and Total Dissolved Solids in Coal Mine Waters

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Virginia Tech


Specific conductivity (SC) and total dissolved solids (TDS) are increasingly being used as a parameter used to judge the aquatic health of streams that are impacted by coal mining operations in the Appalachian region of the United States. Due to this, government environmental regulatory bodies have been considering issuing a regulation on SC for all mining operation outfalls. Sulfate typically has the greatest dissolved ion presence in coal mine waters. In literature examining the treatment of mine waters, SC and TDS analysis is typically not reported. The technologies examined in this study were nanofiltration membrane technology and biological sulfate reducing bioreactors.

In the nanofiltration study, three different nanofiltration membranes were evaluated for SC reduction: NF270, DK, and NFX. The DK and NFX nanofilters were able to reduce SC levels by an average of 84 percent for both mine waters tested and were able to reach SC levels below the proposed limit of 500 S/cm. The SC levels achieved by the NF270 nanofilters were observed to have much higher variability. The inclusion of microfiltration and simulated-sand filtration were also introduced as a pre-treatment stage in order to determine whether or not nanofiltration performance would improve in terms of SC reduction.

In the biological sulfate reducing bioreactor study, multiple bioreactors were established to identify the optimal organic mixture to foster both SC and sulfate reduction. Sulfate reduction began to occur approximately 20 days after the establishment of each bioreactor. SC levels were greater than 13,000 S/cm in each of the bioreactors sampled by the fortieth day of sampling. The probable cause of the increase SC was identified to be the manure/compost used in the study. Future testing should incorporate more sampling in the early phases of experimentation in order to ensure the ability to monitor changes in water quality.



coal mining, microfiltration, nanofiltration, biological sulfate reduction