Water-quality data for discharges from 140 abandoned mines in the Anthracite and Bituminous Coalfields of Pennsylvania reveal complex relations among the pH and dissolved solute concentrations that can be explained with geochemical equilibrium models. Observed values of pH ranged from 2.7 to 7.3 in the coal-mine discharges (CMD). Generally, flow rates were smaller and solute concentrations were greater for low-pH CMD samples; pH typically increased with flow rate. Although the frequency distribution of pH was similar for the anthracite and bituminous discharges, the bituminous discharges had smaller median flow rates; greater concentrations of SO4, Fe, Al, As, Cd, Cu, Ni and Sr; comparable concentrations of Mn, Cd, Zn and Se; and smaller concentrations of Ba and Pb than anthracite discharges with the same pH values. The observed relations between the pH and constituent concentrations can be attributed to (1) dilution of acidic water by near-neutral or alkaline ground water; (2) solubility control of Al, Fe, Mn, Ba and Sr by hydroxide, sulfate, and/or carbonate minerals; and (3) aqueous SO4-complexation and surface-complexation (adsorption) reactions. The formation of AlSO4+ and AlHSO42 + complexes adds to the total dissolved Al concentration at equilibrium with Al(OH)3 and/or Al hydroxysulfate phases and can account for 10-20 times greater concentrations of dissolved Al in SO4-laden bituminous discharges compared to anthracite discharges at pH of 5. Sulfate complexation can also account for 10-30 times greater concentrations of dissolved FeIII concentrations at equilibrium with Fe(OH)3 and/or schwertmannite (Fe8O8(OH)4.5(SO4)1.75) at pH of 3-5. In contrast, lower Ba concentrations in bituminous discharges indicate that elevated SO4 concentrations in these CMD sources could limit Ba concentrations by the precipitation of barite (BaSO4). Coprecipitation of Sr with barite could limit concentrations of this element. However, concentrations of dissolved Pb, Cu, Cd, Zn, and most other trace cations in CMD samples were orders of magnitude less than equilibrium with sulfate, carbonate, and/or hydroxide minerals. Surface complexation (adsorption) by hydrous ferric oxides (HFO) could account for the decreased concentrations of these divalent cations with increased pH. In contrast, increased concentrations of As and, to a lesser extent, Se with increased pH could result from the adsorption of these oxyanions by HFO at low pH and desorption at near-neutral pH. Hence, the solute concentrations in CMD and the purity of associated "ochres" formed in CMD settings are expected to vary with pH and aqueous SO4 concentration, with potential for elevated SO4, As and Se in ochres formed at low pH and elevated Cu, Cd, Pb and Zn in ochres formed at near-neutral pH. Elevated SO4 content of ochres could enhance the adsorption of cations at low pH, but decrease the adsorption of anions such as As. Such information on environmental processes that control element concentrations in aqueous samples and associated precipitates could be useful in the design of systems to reduce dissolved contaminant concentrations and/or to recover potentially valuable constituents in mine effluents.
Additional publication details
Dissolved metals and associated constituents in abandoned coal-mine discharges, Pennsylvania, USA. Part 2: Geochemical controls on constituent concentrations