Metal speciation and potential bioavailability changes during discharge and neutralisation of acidic drainage water
The discharge of acid drainage from the farm irrigation areas to the Murray River in South Australia represents a potential risk to water quality. The drainage waters have low pH (2.9-5.7), high acidity (up to 1190 mg L−1 CaCO3), high dissolved organic carbon (10-40 mg L−1), and high dissolved Al, Co, Ni and Zn (up to 55, 1.25, 1.30 and 1.10 mg L−1, respectively) that represent the greatest concern relative to water quality guidelines (WQGs). To provide information on bioavailability, changes in metal speciation were assessed during mixing experiments using filtration (colloidal metals) and Chelex-lability (free metal ions and weak inorganic metal complexes) methods. Following mixing of drainage and river water, much of the dissolved aluminium and iron precipitated. The concentrations of other metals generally decreased conservatively in proportion to the dilution initially, but longer mixing periods caused increased precipitation or adsorption to particulate phases. Dissolved Co, Mn and Zn were typically 95-100% present in Chelex-labile forms, whereas 40-70% of the dissolved nickel was Chelex-labile and the remaining non-labile fraction of dissolved nickel was associated with fine colloids or complexed by organic ligands that increased with time. Despite the different kinetics of precipitation, adsorption and complexation reactions, the dissolved metal concentrations were generally highly correlated for the pooled data sets, indicating that the major factors controlling the concentrations were similar for each metal (pH, dilution, and time following mixing). For dilutions of the drainage waters of less than 1% with Murray River water, none of the metals should exceed the WQGs. However, the high concentrations of metals associated with fine precipitates within the receiving waters may represent a risk to some aquatic organisms.