Geochemical Reactions in Unsaturated Mine Wastes

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Although mining is essential to life in our modern society, it generates huge amounts of waste that can lead to acid mine drainage (AMD). Most of these mine wastes occur as large piles that are open to the atmosphere so that air and water vapor can circulate through them. This study addresses the reactions and transformations of the minerals that occur in humid air in the pore spaces in the waste piles.

The rate of pyrite oxidation in moist air was determined by measuring over time the change in pressure between a sealed chamber containing pyrite plus oxygen and a control. The experiments carried out at 25?C, 96.8% fixed relative humidity, and oxygen partial pressures of 0.21, 0.61, and 1.00 showed that the rate of oxygen consumption is a function of oxygen partial pressure and time. The rates of oxygen consumption fit the expression (dn/dt=(3.31x10^-7)(P^0.5)(t^-0.5)

It appears that the rate slows with time because a thin layer of ferrous sulfate + sulfuric acid solution grows on pyrite and retards oxygen transport to the pyrite surface.

The transformation of efflorescent sulfate minerals (the reaction products of iron sulfide oxidation) from a pyrrhotite-rich massive sulfide is explained using a systematic analysis of their stoichiometry and thermodynamics. Their stabilities are controlled by oxygen partial pressure, relative humidity, and activity of sulfuric acid and can be visualized using log activity of oxygen-log activity of water and log acitvity of sulfuric acid-log activity of water diagrams developed during this study.

Samples from the field site were analyzed in the laboratory to determine mineralogy, equilibrium relative humidity, chemical composition, and acid generation potential. Dissolution experiments showed that fibroferrite-rich samples had the highest acid producing potential, followed by copiapite-rich samples and then halotrichite-rich samples. The most abundant metals in solutions produced by dissolving the salts were magnesium, aluminum, zinc, copper, calcium, and lead. The molar concentrations of the metals varied with mineralogy. However, all of these minerals release metals and acid when they dissolve and therefore represent a significant environmental threat.



Acid Mine Drainage, Pyrite, Oxidation Rate, Efflorescent Sulfate Salt, Paragenesis