A decision tree (mining waste decision tree) that uses simple physical and chemical tests has been developed to determine whether effluent from mine waste material poses a potential toxicity threat to the aquatic environment. For the chemical portion of the tree, leaching tests developed by the United States Geological Survey, the Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology (Denver, CO), and a modified 1311 toxicity characteristic leaching procedure (TCLP) test of the United States Environmental Protection Agency have been extensively used as a surrogate for readily available metals that can be released into the environment from mining wastes. To assist in the assessment, element concentration pattern graphs (ECPG) are produced that compare concentrations of selected groups of elements from the three leachates and any water associated with the mining waste. The MWDT makes a distinction between leachates or waters with pH less than or greater than 5. Generally, when the pH values are below 5, the ECPG of the solutions are quite similar, and potential aquatic toxicity from cationic metals, such as Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, and Al, is assumed. Below pH 5, these metals are mostly dissolved, generally are not complexed with organic or inorganic ligands, and hence are more bioavailable. Furthermore, there is virtually no carbonate alkalinity at pH less than 5. All of these factors promote metal toxicity to aquatic organisms. On the other hand, when the pH value of the water or the leachates is above 5, the ECPG from the solutions are variable, and inferred aquatic toxicity depends on factors in addition to the metals released from the leaching tests. Hence, leachates and waters with pH above 5 warrant further examination of their chemical composition. Physical ranking criteria provide additional information, particularly in areas where waste piles exhibit similar chemical rankings. Rankings from physical and chemical criteria generally are not correlated. Examples of how this decision tree has been applied in assessing mine sites are discussed. Copyright ?? Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.
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A simple scheme to determine potential aquatic metal toxicity from mining wastes