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TitleGeoenvironmental characterization of mine wastes from carbonatite-hosted niobium deposits: ferroniobium slag
AuthorDesbarats, A JORCID logo; Percival, J BORCID logo
SourceGeological Society of America, Abstracts With Programs vol. 51, no. 5, 333346, 2019 p. 1,
LinksOnline - En ligne
Alt SeriesNatural Resources Canada, Contribution Series 20190248
PublisherGeological Society of America
MeetingGeological Society of America Annual Meeting 2019; Phoenix, AZ; US; September 22-25, 2019
Mediaon-line; digital
File formathtml; pdf
Lat/Long WENS -74.5000 -74.0000 45.5000 45.2500
Subjectsenvironmental geology; geochemistry; mineralogy; Economics and Industry; Nature and Environment; Science and Technology; mining; mineral deposits; niobium; host rocks; carbonatites; pyrochlore; mine waste products; slag; bulk composition; trace element analyses; niobium geochemistry; uranium geochemistry; thorium geochemistry; pH patterns; weathering; sodium geochemistry; aluminum geochemistry; radioactive waste; St-Lawrence Columbium Mine; Environmental hazards; Environmental management; cumulative effects
ProgramEnvironmental Geoscience Cumulative effects in cobalt watersheds
Released2019 09 01
AbstractNiobium (Nb) is a critical metal mined principally from carbonatite deposits. It occurs in the mineral pyrochlore, which also hosts uranium (U) and thorium (Th). The aluminothermic reduction of pyrochlore concentrate yields ferroniobium (FeNb) as a commercial product and waste slag enriched in U, Th and other trace elements. This study presents results from mineralogical, geochemical, and radiological investigations of slag found at the former St-Lawrence Columbium mine in Oka, Quebec. Hibonite, grossite, perovskite and a Na-F bearing aluminate glass are the main phases present in the slag. The bulk composition of samples (n=3) is dominated by Al2O3 (50%), CaO (15%), TiO2 (5%), and variable amounts of SiO2 mainly from foundry sand. Significant trace elements include Ce (5%), Zr (1%), and variable amounts of unrecovered Nb. The median U and Th concentrations observed are 1188 and 1574 ppm, respectively. Median calculated specific activities for U and Th decay series are 213 and 111 Bq/g, respectively. Based on a field radiometric survey of the slag disposal area, median (n=37) concentrations of U and Th equivalents are 1069 and 2101 ppm, respectively. Corresponding median specific activities for U and Th decay series are 192 and 94 Bq/g, respectively, indicating a reasonable agreement with laboratory results. A field-based leach experiment was conducted over an 18-month period on three 220 L barrels filled with gravel to cobble-sized pieces of weathered slag and open to atmospheric conditions. The pH of the leachate varies between 8.8 and 9.4. Concentrations of most dissolved constituents, including Na, the dominant cation, rise initially, then decrease and level off before increasing again at the end of the experiment. This behavior is attributed to ongoing mechanical (freeze-thaw) weathering of the slag. Concentrations of Al vary between 2.5 and 8.5 mg/L while those of U range between 15 and 65 µg/L. Concentrations of Al and U increase concomitantly with F, which varies between 18 and 46 mg/L. Concentrations of Nb increase with pH and reach 230 µg/L. Slag from the production of FeNb is readily weathered and represents a technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM) requiring environmental management because of its radioactivity and the poor quality of its leachate.
Summary(Plain Language Summary, not published)
This study focuses on the waste material produced during the extraction of a metal called niobium. Niobium is important for various industries, but when it's extracted from the earth, it often comes mixed with other elements, including uranium and thorium. These two elements can be radioactive.
The researchers looked at a pile of waste material from a niobium mine in Quebec, Canada. They found that this waste material contains certain minerals and elements, including uranium and thorium, which can be radioactive. The researchers measured how much radioactivity is in the waste and how it affects the environment.
They also conducted an experiment where they exposed the waste to water to see what gets released. The results show that over time, the waste material releases elements like aluminum, uranium, thorium, and niobium into the water, making it potentially harmful to the environment.
The significance of this research is that it highlights the environmental and safety concerns associated with waste from niobium mining. It's important to understand how this waste behaves and how it might affect the environment to ensure proper management and safety measures. This knowledge can guide the safe handling and disposal of waste from niobium production, helping protect both the environment and people's health.

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