Water Quality and Geochemical Modeling of Water at an Abandoned Coal Mine Reclaimed With Coal Combustion By-Products

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4216




An abandoned coal mine in eastern Ohio was reclaimed with 125 tons per acre of pressurized fluidized bed combustion (PFBC) by-product. Water quality at the site (known as the Fleming site) was monitored for 7 years after reclamation; samples included water from soil-suction lysimeters (interstitial water), wells, and spring sites established downgradient of the application area. This report presents a summary of data collected at the Fleming site during the period September 1994 through June 2001. Additionally, results of geochemical modeling are included in this report to evaluate the potential fate of elements derived from the PFBC by-product. Chemical analyses of samples of interstitial waters within the PFBC by-product application area indicated elevated levels of pH and specific conductance and elevated concentrations of boron, calcium, chloride, fluoride, magnesium, potassium, strontium, and sulfate compared to water samples collected in a control area where traditional reclamation methods were used. Magnesium-to-calcium (Mg:Ca) mole ratios and sulfur-isotope ratios were used to trace the PFBC by-product leachate and showed that little, if any, leachate reached ground water. Concentrations of most constituents in interstitial waters in the application-area decreased during the seven sampling rounds and approached background concentrations observed in the control area; however, median pH in the application area remained above 6, indicating that some acid-neutralizing capacity was still present. Although notable changes in water quality were observed in interstitial waters during the study period, quality of ground water and spring water remained poor. Water from the Fleming site was not potable, given exceedances of primary and secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for inorganic constituents in drinking water set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Only fluoride and sulfate, which were found in higher concentrations in application-area interstitial waters than in control-area interstitial waters, could be related to the PFBC by-product. Concentrations of arsenic, lead, and selenium typically were at or below the detection limits (generally 1 or 2 micrograms per liter). Elements detected at elevated concentrations in PFBC by-product application-area interstitial waters were not evident in downgradient ground water or spring water. Dilution of leachate by ground water was confirmed with a mixing model generated by the computer code NETPATH. Additionally, thermodynamic modeling of the chemical composition of water samples by use of the computer code PHREEQC indicated favorable conditions for precipitation of secondary minerals in the unsaturated zone and in aquifer materials. Because of low application rates of PFBC by-product and precipitation and sorption of elements in the unsaturated zone, it is improbable that concentrations of any toxic elements of concern (arsenic, lead, or selenium) will exceed drinking-water standards at this site or other sites where similar volumes of PFBC by-products are used.

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Water Quality and Geochemical Modeling of Water at an Abandoned Coal Mine Reclaimed With Coal Combustion By-Products
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Water-Resources Investigations Report
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28 p.