Enhancing the natural removal of As in a reactive fluvial confluence receiving acid drainage

Monday, 15 December 2014
María Ignacia Abarca1, Guillermo Arce1, Mauricio Montecinos1, Paula Alejandra Guerra1 and Pablo Pasten1,2, (1)Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Santiago, Chile, (2)Centro de Desarrollo Urbano Sustentable, Santiago, Chile
Fluvial confluences are natural reactors that can determine the fate of contaminants in watersheds receiving acid drainage. Hydrological, hydrodynamic and chemical factors determine distinct conditions for the formation of suspended particles of iron and aluminum oxyhydroxides. The chemical and physical properties of these particle assemblages (e.g. particle size, chemical composition) can vary according to inflow mixing ratios, hydrodynamic velocity profiles, and chemical composition of the flows mixing at the confluence. Due to their capacity to sorb metals, it is important to identify the optimal conditions for removing metals from the aqueous phase, particularly arsenic, a contaminant frequently found in acid drainage. 

We studied a river confluence in the Lluta watershed, located in the arid Chilean Altiplano. We performed field measurements and laboratory studies to find optimal mixing ratio for arsenic sorption onto oxyhydroxide particles at the confluence between the Azufre (pH=2, As=2 mg/L) and the Caracarani river (pH=8, As<0.1 mg/L). As the contribution of the acidic stream increased, the concentration of Fe and Al in the solid phase reached a peak at different pHs. Although the optimal pH for As sorption was ~3, the overall maximum removal of As at the confluence, ocurred for pH~4. This is produced because optimal As sorption does not occur necessarily for the highest concentrations of particles being formed. 

We propose that fluvial confluences could be engineered to enhance the natural attenuation of contaminants. An analogy between confluences and coagulation-flocculation-sedimentation drinking water plants could be used to engineer such intervention.

Acknowledgements: Proyecto Fondecyt 1130936 and Proyecto CONICYT FONDAP 15110020