The formation of acid mine drainage (AMD) from mine tailings is a severe environmental problem associated with tailings impoundments. The study evaluated the ability of wetlands built on tailings impoundments to prevent AMD formation and to treat already formed AMD, with special emphasis on the role of wetland plants in the remediation process. Four small-scale surface-flow wetlands of different designs, containing either mine tailings or sand, an inflow of AMD or unpolluted water, and with or without emergent plants (Phragmites australis, Carex rostrata, and Eriophorum angustifolium), were constructed at the Kristineberg mine tailings impoundment in northern Sweden in 2004. Water samples were collected every month in 2006 at inflow and outflow in order to analyse metals, sulphate, pH, and redox potential. At the end of 2006, plant and sediment samples were collected to enable the analysis of metal concentrations. The concentrations of Fe, Zn, Cd, and sulphate and pH did not change after passage through the wetlands treating AMD. However, the Cu concentration decreased by 36-57%, with the decrease higher in the presence than in the absence of plants. The study of AMD prevention indicated that metal concentrations in impoundment water tend to decrease as the water passes through the wetland. However, sulphate concentrations increase and the pH decreases in the water, suggesting sulphide oxidation of the mine tailings. On the other hand, wetland plants increased the pH, decreased the redox potential, and increased the metal concentrations in the substrate, despite the fact that metal uptake in the studied wetland plants accounted for only 0.002-2.9% of the annual metal loading into the wetlands, suggesting that plants promote metal sedimentation and adsorption. Emergent plants and the wetlands constructed in this study were thus inadequate to treat the very harsh AMD at the Kristineberg mine site.
2009. Vol. 35, no 5, 630-642 p.