Evaluating controls on potentially toxic element release in circum-neutral mine water: a case study from the abandoned Pb-Zn mines of Leadhills and Wanlockhead, South of Scotland, United Kingdom

Uche O. Chukwura*, Andrew S. Hursthouse

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Historic sulfidic Pb-Zn mining catchments at Leadhills and Wanlockhead, in the south of Scotland, UK have a legacy of mining of PbS (galena) and ZnS (sphalerite) from the 12th century to the 1930s. The mining activities created tailing piles, ponds, adits and contaminated soils that contribute leaching and surface runoff of potentially toxic elements, particularly lead (Pb), which impact on the surface water and groundwater and are rapidly diluted in the wider catchment area. Studies by environmental regulators have shown that Pb, Cd and Zn in water can locally exceed the Environmental Quality Standards (EQS), particularly at Leadhills. To evaluate geochemical controls on release, 20 water sources (adits, surface water and near-surface groundwater) were sampled over four seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter) over a 1-year period and characterised. Samples were circum-neutral pH from 6.3 to 7.9 (with average total dissolved solids < 55.0 mg/L), with no characteristics of acid mine drainage. The concentrations of PTEs in the water exceed UK EQS and WHO standards (and non-compliance on the Water Framework Directives). Geochemical modelling (GWB and PHREEQCv2) predicted mineral control on solubility which identified PbSO4 (anglesite), Fe2O3 ferric oxide (hematite), Fe3O4 (magnetite), FeCO3 (siderite), CaMg(CO3)2 (dolomite), CaCO3 (calcite), and Ca(Fe.Mg)(CO3)2 (ankerite) to be important. These were confirmed in solid phases analysed from tailings and sediments in contact with the hydrological cycle at the sites. Multivariate statistical analysis (PCA) of water samples associated with leaching through mine tailings showed strong seasonal variation with some elements (Fe, Cu, Cd, Pb, Na, Ca, Zn) with higher variance. The strong negative association of pH with soluble Zn, Cu, As, Cd and Pb highlights typical sulfide oxidation processes are taking place and supported by a positive correlation with temperature. Dissolution processes of mineral phases indicated by positive association of TDS and EC with Na, Ca and Zn. The data from PCA suggest contributions with potential for active generation of acid mine drainage and dissolution of solid phases influencing the release of PTEs into surface waters.
Original languageEnglish
Article number363
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Earth Sciences
Volume79
Issue number14
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2020

Keywords

  • geochemistry
  • mine wastes
  • potentially toxic elements
  • lead mining
  • Scotland

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