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Occurrence and behaviour of dissolved, nano-particulate and micro-particulate iron in waste waters and treatment systems: new insights from electrochemical analysis
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Matthies R, Aplin AC, Horrocks BR, Mudashiru LK
Journal of Environmental Monitoring
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Cyclic-, Differential Pulse- and Steady-state Microdisc Voltammetry (CV, DPV, SMV) techniques have been used to quantify the occurrence and fate of dissolved Fe(II)/Fe(III), nano-particulate and micro-particulate iron over a 12 month period in a series of net-acidic and net-alkaline coal mine drainages and passive treatment systems. Total iron in the mine waters is typically 10–100 mg L−1, with values up to 2100 mg L−1. Between 30 and 80% of the total iron occurs as solid phase, of which 20 to 80% is nano-particulate. Nano-particulate iron comprises 20 to 70% of the nominally “dissolved” (i.e. <0.45 μm) iron. Since coagulation and sedimentation are the only processes required to remove solid phase iron, these data have important implications for the generation or consumption of acidity during water treatment. In most waters, the majority of truly dissolved iron occurs as Fe(II) (average 64 ± 22%). Activities of Fe(II) do not correlate with pH and geochemical modelling shows that no Fe(II) mineral is supersaturated. Removal of Fe(II) must proceed via oxidation and hydrolysis. Except in waters with pH < 4.4, activities of Fe(III) are strongly and negatively correlated with pH. Geochemical modelling suggests that the activity of Fe(III) is controlled by the solubility of hydrous ferric oxides and oxyhydroxysulfates, supported by scanning and transmission electron microscopic analysis of solids. Nevertheless, the waters are generally supersaturated with respect to ferrihydrite and schwertmannite, and are not at redox equilibrium, indicating the key role of oxidation and hydrolysis kinetics on water treatment. Typically 70–100% of iron is retained in the treatment systems. Oxidation, hydrolysis, precipitation, coagulation and sedimentation occur in all treatment systems and – independent of water chemistry and the type of treatment system – hydroxides and oxyhydroxysulfates are the main iron sinks. The electrochemical data thus reveal the rationale for incomplete iron retention in individual systems and can thus inform future design criteria. The successful application of this low cost and rapid electrochemical method demonstrates its significant potential for real-time, on-site monitoring of iron-enriched waters and may in future substitute traditional analytical methods.
Royal Society of Chemistry
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