Pipe Scale Studies At Iron Mountain Mines
As part of the remediation at Iron Mountain Mine being overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a water treatment plant has been in operation since 1994 to neutralize the acid mine drainage (AMD) coming from the old mines. AMD is a major environmental concern because it can degrade water quality with elevated concentrations of acidity, sulfate, iron, and other associated trace metals and metalloids including copper, zinc, cadmium, and arsenic. To manage AMD at Iron Mountain, contaminated water is transported from the portals of the old mines to the treatment plant through two underground pipelines. The first pipeline transports water pumped from "Old Mine #8" (also known as pump station PW3) which has pH of about 2.5, while the second pipeline drains water from the Richmond and Hornet mines, which has a pH less than 1.5. The PW3 pipeline has developed substantial scaling over several kilometers, resulting in occasional clogging and spilling of AMD. The pipe scaling problem requires costly pipe clean-out, which has been done approximately every two to four years.
What is Pipe Scale?
Pipe scale is simply a mineral precipitate that forms within a pipe as water flows through it. A common example is the calcium-rich precipitate that forms when hard water is heated in a household water heater. In the PW3 pipeline at Iron Mountain, as AMD is transported away from its source, microbial iron oxidation causes formation of iron oxide minerals which accumulate on the inside of the pipe. The encrusted pipes cause costly management problems when excessive buildup interferes with treatment efforts by clogging pipelines or other treatment structures.
In cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the USGS began investigating the biogeochemistry and mineralogy of the pipe scale in the summer of 2012. The pipe scale investigation has five objectives:
- Determine the mineralogy and chemistry of the pipe scale;
- Determine seasonal variability of water in pipelines;
- Determine rates of oxidation (biotic and abiotic) of Fe(II) in water from Slickrock Creek pipeline using laboratory experiment and detailed field observations;
- Construct a geochemical model of pipe scale formation; and
- Determine proportion of Richmond Mine water (pH ~1) that would need to be added to Slickrock Creek pipeline water (pH ~2.5) to prevent scale formation
July 26, 2018
Public lecture: Iron Mountain, California: An Extreme Acid Mine Drainage Environment, presented by Charles Alpers, USGS Research Chemist
Campbell, K.M., Alpers, C.N., Nordstrom, D.K., and Blum, A., 2013, Characterization and remediation of iron(III) oxide-rich scale in a pipeline carrying acid mine drainage at Iron Mountain Mine, California, U.S.A., International Mine Water Association 2013 Annual Conference, Golden, Colo., Aug. 5-9, 2013.
Campbell, K.M., Alpers, C.N., and Nordstrom, D.K., 2019, Field and laboratory data of pipe scale forming in acid mine drainage pipelines at Iron Mountain and Leviathan Mines: U.S. Geological Survey data release.
Project Chief: Charles Alpers