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University of Arizona

Superfund Research Program

Attenuation and Remediation of Groundwater Contamination from Hardrock Acid-Mine Drainage in the Semiarid Southwest

Project Leader: Mark L. Brusseau
Co-Investigator: James A. Field
Grant Number: P42ES004940
Funding Period: 2000-2020
View this project in the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT)

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Project Summary (2015-2017)

Acid rock drainage and its potential impact on surface-water and groundwater contamination are an important environmental concern for many hardrock mining sites in the US. As a result, cost-effective treatment of mining-impacted waters to levels protective of human health and the environment is a critical issue for mitigating the risk associated with hardrock mining sites. The overall goals of this project are to investigate the key physical and biogeochemical processes that control migration and attenuation of mine-drainage contaminants in groundwater, and to develop and test innovative methods for remediation of contaminated groundwater at hardrock mining sites.

As part of this project, researchers are investigating the key processes that control migration and attenuation of mine-drainage contaminants at the source/groundwater interface, and investigating the feasibility and long-term efficacy of in situ biosequestration for the remediation of groundwater contaminated by acid rock drainage.

This project incorporates innovative hydrological and biogeochemical methods to develop approaches designed specifically for the unique properties and conditions inherent to mining sites in the Southwestern US. The project targets the primary groundwater contaminants of concern at these sites, including sulfate, arsenic, and uranium. Additionally, it encompasses experiments conducted across several scales, including pore-scale microtomographic imaging, batch and column microcosm reactors, intermediate-scale flowcells, and pilot-scale field tests.

This project is advancing the state of the science regarding the transport and attenuation of metalloids in the subsurface and their remediation. For example, in situ biosequestration is one of the very few options that exist for remediation of the large, deep groundwater contaminant plumes that form at hardrock mining sites. This method has great potential, but several critical questions exist as barriers to widespread acceptance and adoption. This project is answering these questions, with a specific focus on novel methods for implementing in situ biosequestration under the conditions representative of sites in the Southwestern US It is anticipated that the application of project outcomes will produce significant cost savings for the clean-up of the nation's inventory of mine waste sites.

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