The abandoned Valzinco mine, which worked a steeply dipping Kuroko-type massive sulfide deposit in the Virginia Au-pyrite belt, contributed significant metal-laden acid-mine drainage to the Knight's Branch watershed. The host rocks were dominated by metamorphosed felsic volcanic rocks, which offered limited acid-neutralizing potential. The ores were dominated by pyrite, sphalerite, galena, and chalcopyrite, which represented significant acid-generating potential. Acid-base accounting and leaching studies of flotation tailings - the dominant mine waste at the site - indicated that they were acid generating and therefore, should have liberated significant quantities of metals to solution. Field studies of mine drainage from the site confirmed that mine drainage and the impacted stream waters had pH values from 1.1 to 6.4 and exceeded aquatic ecosystem toxicity limits for Fe, Al, Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn. Stable isotope studies of water, dissolved SO42 -, and primary and secondary sulfate and sulfide minerals indicated that two distinct sulfide oxidation pathways were operative at the site: one dominated by Fe(III) as the oxidant, and another by molecular O2 as the oxidant. Reaction-path modeling suggested that geochemical interactions between tailings and waters approached a steady state within about a year. Both leaching studies and geochemical reaction-path modeling provided reasonable predictions of the mine-drainage chemistry.
Additional publication details
Environmental geochemistry of a Kuroko-type massive sulfide deposit at the abandoned Valzinco mine, Virginia, USA