Changes in zinc speciation with mine tailings acidification in a semiarid weathering environment

Sarah M. Hayes, Peggy A. O'Day, Sam M. Webb, Raina M. Maier, Jon Chorover

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


High concentrations of residual metal contaminants in mine tailings can be transported easily by wind and water, particularly when tailings remain unvegetated for decades following mining cessation, as is the case in semiarid landscapes. Understanding the speciation and mobility of contaminant metal(loid)s, particularly in surficial tailings, is essential to controlling their phytotoxicities and to revegetating impacted sites. In prior work, we showed that surficial tailings samples from the Klondyke State Superfund Site (AZ, USA), ranging in pH from 5.4 to 2.6, represent a weathering series, with acidification resulting from sulfide mineral oxidation, long-term Fe hydrolysis, and a concurrent decrease in total (6000 to 450 mg kg -1) and plant-available (590 to 75 mg kg -1) Zn due to leaching losses and changes in Zn speciation. Here, we used bulk and microfocused Zn K-edge X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) data and a six-step sequential extraction procedure to determine tailings solid phase Zn speciation. Bulk sample spectra were fit by linear combination using three references: Zn-rich phyllosilicate (Zn 0.8talc), Zn sorbed to ferrihydrite (Zn adsFeOx), and zinc sulfate (ZnSO 4·7H 2O). Analyses indicate that Zn sorbed in tetrahedral coordination to poorly crystalline Fe and Mn (oxyhydr)oxides decreases with acidification in the weathering sequence, whereas octahedral zinc in sulfate minerals and crystalline Fe oxides undergoes a relative accumulation. Microscale analyses identified hetaerolite (ZnMn 2O 4), hemimorphite (Zn 4Si 2O 7(OH) 2·H 2O) and sphalerite (ZnS) as minor phases. Bulk and microfocused spectroscopy complement the chemical extraction results and highlight the importance of using a multimethod approach to interrogate complex tailings systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7166-7172
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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