Thanks to the pioneering research of Paul Younger over the past 20 years, acid mine drainage in the UK has been recognized as a major environmental issue. Acid mine drainage and hydrous ferric oxide deposition are environmental hazards resulting from centuries of extensive coal mining activities across the UK. Oxidative weathering of pyrite in coal from spoil heaps and exposed bedrock can liberate trace elements, releasing them into local water systems. In addition to posing an environmental threat through water and ground contamination, ochres can also act as a remediation material, trapping elements such as selenium. Trace elements with a close association to iron oxides, such as selenium, may fix to the fine-grained ochre materials, resulting in hyper-enriched ochres. Selenium in coals has been known to cause an environmental issue in areas of North America but is also an important commodity for solar cells and nanotechnologies. Coal-bearing areas of the UK, such as Northumberland, are known to contain a high selenium content, and coal-derived ochres in these regions also contain significant selenium. The widespread occurrence of ochres in UK coal-mining regions may therefore present a unique ‘E tech’ trace element source and prevent a toxicity problem for which they were once thought to be responsible.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth-Surface Processes