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Sci Total Environ. 2009 Oct 15;407(21):5761-71. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.07.031. Epub 2009 Aug 15.

Combination of sequential chemical extraction and modelling of dam-break wave propagation to aid assessment of risk related to the possible collapse of a roasted sulphide tailings dam.

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Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research, IDAEA-CSIC, Jordi Girona 18, 08034, Barcelona, Spain.


The Sotiel-Coronada abandoned mining district (Iberian Pyrite Belt) produced complex massive sulphide ores which were processed by flotation to obtain Cu, Zn and Pb concentrates. The crude pyrite refuses were roasted for sulphuric acid production in a plant located close to the flotation site, and waste stored in a tailing dam. The present study was focused on the measurements of flow properties, chemical characterization and mineralogical determination of the roasted pyrite refuses with the aim of assessing the potential environmental impact in case of dam collapse. Chemical studies include the determination of the total contaminant content and information about their bio-availability or mobility using sequential extraction techniques. In the hypothetical case of the tailing dam breaking up and waste spilling (ca. 4.54Mt), a high density mud flow would flood the Odiel river valley and reach both Estuary of Huelva (Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, 1983) and Atlantic Ocean in matter of a couple of days, as it was predicted by numerical simulations of dam-break waves propagation through the river valley based on quasi-2D Saint-Venant equations. The total amount of mobile pollutants that would be released into the surrounding environment is approximately of 7.1.10(4)t of S, 1.6.10(4)t of Fe, 1.4.10(4)t of As, 1.2.10(4)t of Zn, 1.0.10(4)t of Pb, 7.4.10(3)t of Mn, 2.2.10(3)t of Cu, 1.5.10(2)t of Co, 36t of Cd and 17t of Ni. Around 90-100% of S, Zn, Co and Ni, 60-70% of Mn and Cd, 30-40% of Fe and Cu, and 5% of As and Pb of the mobile fraction would be easily in the most labile fraction (water-soluble pollutants), and therefore, the most dangerous and bio-available for the environment. This gives an idea of the extreme potential risk of roasted pyrite ashes to the environment, until now little-described in the scientific literature.

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