Mining waste byproduct could help clean water

December 26, 2012

LEETOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey say a byproduct of acid mine drainage treatment may be able to help clean agricultural and municipal wastewaters.

The recently published study was done at the agency's Leetown Science Center in West Virginia. It shows that dried acid mine drainage sludge can be used as a low-cost adsorbent to remove phosphorus from wastewaters.

Acid mine drainage is produced whenever sulfide minerals from coal and metal deposits are exposed to air and moisture. The resulting acid and dissolved metals are toxic to most forms of aquatic life. The USGS says that untreated drainage has impacted more than 5,000 miles of streams in the Appalachian region, which has associated economic impacts of millions of lost dollars in the tourism and sport fishing industries.

Officials say the new technology can potentially help lower acid mine drainage treatment costs, prevent the degrading of aquatic ecosystems and recycle valuable nutrients.

Philip Sibrell, lead author of the study said the new technology is a "win-win situation" because it could reduce or eliminate the need to dispose of acid mine drainage sludge. Instead, that same sludge could be useful in addressing the urgent need to reduce the amount of phosphorus going into aquatic ecosystems.

"As environmental scientists, we kind of hesitate to use this analogy, but it really is like killing two birds with one stone," Sibrell said in a news release.

The mine drainage residuals also can be reused for a number of additional treatment cycles, scientists say.

"This wonderful result shows the inventive application of some very sophisticated environmental chemistry to create a new life cycle for what otherwise would have been some problematic waste products," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt.