Slag is a waste product from the pyrometallurgical processing of various ores. Based on over 150 published studies, this paper provides an overview of mineralogical and geochemical characteristics of different types of slag and their environmental consequences, particularly from the release of potentially toxic elements to water. This chapter reviews the characteristics of both ferrous (steel and blast furnace Fe) and non-ferrous (Ag, Cu, Ni, Pb, Sn, Zn) slag. Interest in slag has been increasing steadily as large volumes, on the order of hundreds of millions of tonnes, are produced annually worldwide. Research on slag generally focuses on potential environmental issues related to the weathering of slag dumps or on its utility as a construction material or reprocessing for secondary metal recovery. The chemistry and mineralogy of slag depend on the metallurgical processes that create the material and will influence its fate as waste or as a reusable product.
The composition of ferrous slag is dominated by Ca and Si. Steel slag may contain significant Fe, whereas Mg and Al may be significant in Fe slag. Calcium-rich olivine-group silicates, melilite-group silicates that contain Al or Mg, Ca-rich glass, and oxides are the most commonly reported major phases in ferrous slag. Calcite and trace amounts of a variety of sulfides, intermetallic compounds, and pure metals are typically also present. The composition of non-ferrous slag, most commonly from base-metal production, is dominated by Fe and Si with significant but lesser amounts of Al and Ca. Silicates in the olivine, pyroxene, and melilite groups, as well as glass, spinels, and SiO2 (i.e., quartz and other polymorphs) are commonly found in non-ferrous slag. Sulfides and intermetallic compounds are less abundant than the silicates and oxides. The concentrations of some elements exceed generic USEPA soil screening levels for human contact based on multiple exposure pathways; these elements include Al, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Pb, and Zn based on bulk chemical composition. Each slag type usually contains a specific suite of elements that may be of environmental concern. In general, non-ferrous slag may have a higher potential to negatively impact the environment compared to ferrous slag, and is thus a less attractive material for reuse, based on trace element chemistry, principally for base metals. However, the amount of elements released into the environment is not always consistent with bulk chemical composition. Many types of leaching tests have been used to help predict slag’s long-term environmental behavior. Overall, ferrous slags produce an alkaline leachate due to the dissolution of Ca oxides and silicates derived from compounds originally added as fluxing agents, such as lime. Ferrous slag leachate is commonly less metal-rich than leachate from non-ferrous slag generated during base metal extraction; the latter leachate may even be acidic due to the oxidation of sulfides. Because of its characteristics, ferrous slag is commonly used for construction and environmental applications, whereas both non-ferrous and ferrous slag may be reprocessed for secondary metal recovery. Both types of slag have been a source of some environmental contamination. Research into the environmental aspects of slag will continue to be an important topic whether the goal is its reuse, recycling, or remediation.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Characteristics and environmental aspects of slag: a review|
|Series title||Applied Geochemistry|
|Contributing office(s)||Eastern Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center|
|Online Only (Y/N)||N|
|Additional Online Files (Y/N)||N|