Format of Presentation

Poster to be presented the Friday of the conference

Abstract

Tailings sites left from mining operations contain heavy metals which have the potential to bioaccumulate and leech into the surrounding soil and watersheds. Although some heavy metals are essential for biological processes, higher concentrations can be toxic and negatively impact nearby ecosystems and human health. Current tailings reclamation processes are often insufficient in preventing heavy metal bioaccumulation or too expensive and time demanding to be realistically incorporated into mine reclamation strategies. Absorbent porous minerals have been used in industrial wastewater management to remove contaminants. In this study we used one such absorbent mineral, zeolite, to test its ability in neutralizing lead, arsenic and cadmium metals in gold and copper mine tailings. We compared three different concentrations of zeolite in tailings soil and the subsequent effects on plant growth. Although treatment differences in plant biomass was not statistically significant in relation to zeolite concentrations, forthcoming data on heavy metal uptake by the plants will offer more detailed information on the zeolites affect on plant growth. The two native plants used, bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) and field locoweed (Oxytropis campestris), responded differently to the pH and zeolite tailings treatments. The soil acidity significantly impacted field locoweed biomass; alkaline tailings was correlated with increased biomass. Biomass of field locoweed also showed a trend of increasing in relation to increased concentration of zeolite. The opposite was true for bluebunch wheatgrass. The results of this study indicate that although the zeolite treatment may be beneficial in increasing biomass and reducing heavy metal uptake in plants, species respond differently to reclamation treatments. This study points to zeolite in combination with field locoweed as being a new and useful tool for mine tailings reclamation in the interior of British Columbia.

Department

Biological Sciences

Faculty Advisor

Lauchlan Fraser

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Zeolite: an Emerging Tool for Mine Reclamation

Tailings sites left from mining operations contain heavy metals which have the potential to bioaccumulate and leech into the surrounding soil and watersheds. Although some heavy metals are essential for biological processes, higher concentrations can be toxic and negatively impact nearby ecosystems and human health. Current tailings reclamation processes are often insufficient in preventing heavy metal bioaccumulation or too expensive and time demanding to be realistically incorporated into mine reclamation strategies. Absorbent porous minerals have been used in industrial wastewater management to remove contaminants. In this study we used one such absorbent mineral, zeolite, to test its ability in neutralizing lead, arsenic and cadmium metals in gold and copper mine tailings. We compared three different concentrations of zeolite in tailings soil and the subsequent effects on plant growth. Although treatment differences in plant biomass was not statistically significant in relation to zeolite concentrations, forthcoming data on heavy metal uptake by the plants will offer more detailed information on the zeolites affect on plant growth. The two native plants used, bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) and field locoweed (Oxytropis campestris), responded differently to the pH and zeolite tailings treatments. The soil acidity significantly impacted field locoweed biomass; alkaline tailings was correlated with increased biomass. Biomass of field locoweed also showed a trend of increasing in relation to increased concentration of zeolite. The opposite was true for bluebunch wheatgrass. The results of this study indicate that although the zeolite treatment may be beneficial in increasing biomass and reducing heavy metal uptake in plants, species respond differently to reclamation treatments. This study points to zeolite in combination with field locoweed as being a new and useful tool for mine tailings reclamation in the interior of British Columbia.

 

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