Antimony Mobilization through Two Contrasting Gold Ore Processing Systems, New Zealand
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Antimony, a toxic metalloid similar to arsenic, is present at variable levels in most gold-bearing rocks. Antimony is soluble in the surface environment, so antimony (Sb) mobilization in mine waters is an environmental issue around gold mines. The Reefton gold mine was originally developed in gold-bearing quartz veins; Sb concentrations were low (<100 mg/kg) compared to arsenic (As) concentrations (>1,000 mg/kg), and the mine waters had low dissolved Sb (<0.1 mg/L). A second stage of gold mineralization at Reefton involved brecciation and cataclasis of quartz veins and wall rocks, with addition of stibnite (Sb2S3). Processing of this ore has resulted in higher dissolved Sb in mine waters (0.1–1 mg/L), even after water treatment that removes most dissolved As (to 0.01 mg/L) by adsorption to suspended iron oxyhydroxide. Competition between As and Sb for adsorption sites on iron oxyhydroxide particles may have resulted in partial exclusion of the more weakly adsorbed Sb. The high rainfall (2,000 mm/year) at Reefton ensures adequate dilution of mine waters after discharge. The Macraes gold mine has no stibnite, and most Sb is in solid solution in the abundant arsenopyrite (Sb up to 2,000 mg/kg). Pit waters have both Sb and As dissolved up to 0.1 mg/L, partly because of evaporative concentration in a low-rainfall environment. Macraes tailings waters have high As (up to 3 mg/L) but negligible Sb (<0.001 mg/L). Reefton mine gold-bearing concentrate, containing stibnite, is transported 700 km to be processed by autoclave oxidation and cyanidation at the Macraes mine. This introduction of additional Sb to the Macraes site substantially increases the Sb content of the process stream periodically. Tailings from this process have up to 3 wt% Sb, dispersed through As-rich iron oxyhydroxides that are formed in the autoclave. The Sb-rich tailings are strongly diluted (approximately 100:1) by the Macraes tailings, and adsorption of Sb to iron oxyhydroxides in the tailings piles ensures that there has been no increase in the Sb content of the tailings water since the Reefton concentrate has been added at Macraes.
KeywordsAdsorption Antimony Arsenic Arsenopyrite Iron oxyhydroxide Stibnite
This research was financed by the NZ Foundation for Research Science and Technology, and the University of Otago. The NZ Branch of Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy provided a scholarship to LM for the study. The project would have been impossible without the enthusiastic co-operation and support from Oceana Gold Ltd personnel at both Reefton and Macraes mines, especially Debbie Clarke, Simone Vellekoop, Russell Pearce, Craig McIntosh, Brent Hill, Nick Whetter, Mark McCulloch, Tony Frater, Quenton Johnston, Melanie Rosak, and Pat Chave. Kat Lilly, Brent Pooley and Damian Walls provided expert laboratory assistance. Comments by two anonymous reviewers helped to improve the substance and presentation of the manuscript.
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