Mineralogy and heavy metal content of secondary mineral salts: A case study from the Witwatersrand Gold Basin, South Africa.
Secondary minerals associated with acid mine drainage play an important role in metal cycling and may pose a geochemical hazard. The occurrence of secondary minerals indicates prevailing and past geochemical conditions. Detecting and characterising secondary minerals is necessary to the planning of remediation programmes. This paper investigates the mineralogical and heavy metal contents of mineral salts associated with acid mine drainage in the East Rand area of the Witwatersrand Basin. Powdered X-ray diffraction was used to identify and quantify mineralogical phases and a scanning electron microscope was used to determine the morphology of the identified minerals. Major cations and anions were determined using Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) and Ion Chromatography (IC). Geochemical modelling was used to predict the saturation of the minerals. Efflorescent crusts contained high levels of trace metals. Enrichment of trace metals, electrical conductivity and sulphate were highest in white salts. A high metal content was associated with low pH values in mineral salts. The salts were dominated by quartz and clay minerals of the smectite group. Tamarugite, apjohnite and jarosite were the predominant sulphate minerals in the salts. These minerals are very acidic and will accelerate weathering in the surrounding soils. Geochemical modelling yielded precipitated hydrated sulphate, halite and goethite. The information gathered during this study will be useful in managing salinity and high metal contents in receiving waters and soils associated with gold mining activities.