A field assessment of bauxite residue rehabilitation strategies.

Affiliation

University of Limerick, Department of Biological Sciences & The Bernal Institute, Co. Limerick, Ireland. Electronic address: [Email]

Abstract

Bauxite residue, the by-product of the alumina industry, is mainly stored in land-based bauxite residue disposal areas (BRDAs). Environmental concern has been raised due to the large volumes in stockpile, the high alkalinity of the material, as well as the presence of elevated concentrations of trace elements. If not adequately managed, BRDAs can act as a source of pollution. In order to minimize the environmental risk, revegetation is implemented to stabilize the residue against water and wind erosion. Currently, two main approaches are used: the use of amendments or the installation of a capping layer. However, few studies evaluating the long-term success and self-sustainability of the rehabilitation programs have been published. A series of field-established rehabilitation strategies reflecting both direct revegetation and revegetation on capping layer were assessed in terms of both soil and plant quality. Soil physico-chemical properties, including pseudo-total and plant-available fractions of nutrients and trace elements, were determined over a summer and winter seasons and aerial portions of vegetation were analysed for nutrients and trace elements. Failure to adequately lower alkalinity remains the major constraint to long-term rehabilitation success of bauxite residue. This is evidenced from poor soil properties in unamended residue and in residue capped with a shallow soil layer, as well from vegetation displaying excessive concentrations of certain elements. Certain elements exceeded typical ranges for non-contaminated soils (i.e. Cr, Fe, Na, Ni and V), with some showing excessive plant-available fractions (i.e. of Al, As, Cr, Hg and V). Vegetation analysis found excessive uptake of some elements (i.e. of Al, Na, Fe, Cr and V). Future attempts for bauxite residue rehabilitation should include both gypsum and organic amendments, while a capping layer may only be effective if either a deep layer (>1 m) is installed or if the underlying residue is sufficiently treated prior to capping.

Keywords

Field sampling,Mine tailings,Plant-availability,Revegetation,Soil extraction,

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