Impacts of detrital nano- and micro-scale particles (dNP) on contaminant dynamics in a coal mine AMD treatment system

Liliana Lefticariu, Stephen R. Sutton, Kelly S. Bender, Mihai Lefticariu, Martin Pentrak, Joseph W. Stucki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pollutants in acid mine drainage (AMD) are usually sequestered in neoformed nano- and micro-scale particles (nNP) through precipitation, co-precipitation, and sorption. Subsequent biogeochemical processes may control nNP stability and thus long-term contaminant immobilization. Mineralogical, chemical, and microbiological data collected from sediments accumulated over a six-year period in a coal-mine AMD treatment system were used to identify the pathways of contaminant dynamics. We present evidence that detrital nano- and micron-scale particles (dNP), composed mostly of clay minerals originating from the partial weathering of coal-mine waste, mediated biogeochemical processes that catalyzed AMD contaminant (1) immobilization by facilitating heterogeneous nucleation and growth of nNP in oxic zones, and (2) remobilization by promoting phase transformation and reductive dissolution of nNP in anoxic zones. We found that dNP were relatively stable under acidic conditions and estimated a dNP content of ~ 0.1 g/L in the influent AMD. In the AMD sediments, the initial nNP precipitates were schwertmannite and poorly crystalline goethite, which transformed to well-crystallized goethite, the primary nNP repository. Subsequent reductive dissolution of nNP resulted in the remobilization of up to 98% of S and 95% of Fe accompanied by the formation of a compact dNP layer. Effective treatment of pollutants could be enhanced by better understanding the complex, dynamic role dNP play in mediating biogeochemical processes and contaminant dynamics at coal-mine impacted sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)941-955
Number of pages15
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Acid mine drainage
  • Bioremediation
  • Clay minerals
  • Coal mining
  • Detrital nano-and micro-scale particles (dNP)
  • Nanoparticles
  • Neoformed nano-and micro-scale particles (nNP)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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