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Colloidal metal transport in soils developing on historic coal mine spoil...

by David Singer, Md Abu Raihan Chowdhury, Elizabeth M Herndon
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Applied Geochemistry
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Chemical weathering of pyrite via oxidative dissolution is well-known for generating Fe(III)-bearing colloids at acid mine drainage (AMD) sites; however, the potential for physical weathering of pyrite-bearing materials and subsequent release and transport of colloidal pyrite and associated trace metals has not been studied. Here, we monitored the colloidal metal transport in soil developing on abandoned coal mine spoil with a history of AMD generation to systematically study the contribution of colloids to base and trace metal transport and determine the elemental and mineralogical composition of colloids. We collected soil pore water using lysimeters with a pore size of approximately 1.3 μm and centrifugation was used to separate the colloids from aqueous fractions. Metal concentrations of Na, Ca, Mg, K, Si, Al, Mn, Fe, Cu, and Zn were analyzed. Our results show only 14% of the total Al and Cu were present in colloidal fractions whereas 23%, 43%, and 54% of Fe, Mn, and Zn were transported in the colloidal phase, respectively. In contrast, all base metals were primarily present in the aqueous concentration with a small fraction (<10%) present in the colloidal phase. The colloidal fractions of the base metals were inferred to be associated with the concentration of clay colloids. The release of colloids exhibited possible sensitivity toward weather conditions such as alternating high temperatures and rainfall during summer (May–July) compared to fall (August–November). The morphology, elemental, and mineral composition of colloids were determined by a scanning electron microscopy equipped with energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) and X-ray diffraction (XRD). Colloids were dominated by phyllosilicates (biotite, muscovite, and kaolinite) with minor quartz and feldspars. Other minerals phases identified in colloidal fractions were hematite, goethite, arsenopyrite, and chalcopyrite. Colloids consisting of Fe, S, and O with structures resembling framboidal pyrite were identified, which is consistent with the non-silicates minerals identified by XRD. Our study suggests that the physical weathering of pyrite in the mine spoil can generate colloidal pyrite, which is mobilized and transported by soil pore water. Our results also indicate that these pyritic colloids are associated with toxic trace metals including Cu, Mn, and Zn. Colloid mobilization is also impacted by changes in temperature and precipitation, where clay mobilization afer rain events is favored. Further, sudden spikes in aqueous and/or colloidal concentrations may be the result of local heterogeneity within soils developing on mine spoil, indicating that further field-based work is necessary to better characterize pore-scale processes that control aqueous and colloid transport at similar sites to have a better understanding of potential contaminant transport from mine spoil systems.