Controlling water contamination caused by mining activities is a significant concern. Existing controls may be short term and expensive and are often ineffective. Scientific research at the U.S. Bureau of Mines is aimed at permanent, economic solutions to mining-related waste management problems. This paper provides an overview of work at the Bureau's Spokane Research Center regarding three related technical issues: contaminant release, contaminant transport, and contaminant fate. In column leaching experiments, oxidation seems to be the dominant mechanism for releasing contaminants from sulfitic metal mine wastes. The movement of contaminants (transport) from mine wastes into ground water is being studied in detail at several tailings sites, where it is being shown that many metal contaminants are attenuated very rapidly in hydrogeologic systems. What happens to these contaminants (their "fate") is being investigated with water quality information supplied by several major metal mines. Statistical and hydrogeochemical analyses of these data are showing that the transport of contaminants is controlled by site-specific factors. The Bureau believes that such research can reduce the cost of waste disposal through development of improved disposal methods and better control technologies at existing sites.
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