In drainage from an inactive ore heap at a former gold mine, the speciation of cyanide and the concentrations of several metals were found to follow diurnal cycles. Concentrations of the hexacyanoferrate complex, iron, manganese, and ammonium were higher at night than during the day, whereas weak-acid-dissociable cyanide, silver, gold, copper, nitrite, and pH displayed the reverse behavior. The changes in cyanide speciation, iron, and trace metals can be explained by photodissociation of iron and cobalt cyanocomplexes as the solutions emerged from the heap into sunlight-exposed channels. At midday, environmentally significant concentrations of free cyanide were produced in a matter of minutes, causing trace copper, silver, and gold to be mobilized as cyanocomplexes from solids. Whether rapid photodissociation is a general phenomenon common to other sites will be important to determine in reaching a general understanding of the environmental risks posed by routine or accidental water discharges from precious metal mining facilities.
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Photochemical changes in cyanide speciation in drainage from a precious metal ore heap