Geochemistry of extremely alkaline (pH > 12) ground water in slag-fill aquifers

George S. Roadcap, Walton R. Kelly, Craig M. Bethke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Extremely alkaline ground water has been found underneath many shuttered steel mills and slag dumps and has been an impediment to the cleanup and economic redevelopment of these sites because little is known about the geochemistry. A large number of these sites occur in the Lake Calumet region of Chicago, Illinois, where large-scale infilling of the wetlands with steel slag has created an aquifer with pH values as high as 12.8. To understand the geochemistry of the alkaline ground water system, we analyzed samples of ground water and the associated slag and weathering products from four sites. We also considered several potential remediation schemes to lower the pH and toxicity of the water. The principal cause of the alkaline conditions is the weathering of calcium silicates within the slag. The resulting ground water at most of the sites is dominated by Ca2+ and OH- in equilibrium with Ca(OH)2. Where the alkaline ground water discharges in springs, atmospheric CO2 dissolves into the water and thick layers of calcite form. Iron, manganese, and other metals in the metallic portion of the slag have corroded to form more stable low-temperature oxides and sulfides and have not accumulated in large concentrations in the ground water. Calcite precipitated at the springs is rich in a number of heavy metals, suggesting that metals can move through the system as particulate matter. Air sparging appears to be an effective remediation strategy for reducing the toxicity of discharging alkaline water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)806-816
Number of pages11
JournalGround Water
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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