US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Mine Water Environ (2008) 27:67–85.


Passive-treatment systems that route acidic mine drainage (AMD) through crushed limestone and/or organic-rich substrates have been used to remove the acidity and metals from various AMD sources, with a wide range of effects. This study evaluates treatment of net-acidic, oxic, iron-laden AMD with limestone alone, and with organic-rich compost layered with the limestone. In the fall of 2003, a treatment system consisting of two parallel, 500-m2 downflow cells followed by a 400-m2 aerobic settling pond and wetland was installed to neutralize the AMD from the Bell Mine, a large source of AMD and baseflow to the Schuylkill River in the Southern Anthracite Coalfield, in east-central Pennsylvania. Each downflow cell consisted of a lower substrate layer of 1,090 metric tons (t) of dolomitic limestone (60 wt% CaCO3) and an upper layer of 300 t of calcitic limestone (95 wt% CaCO3); one of the downflow cells also included a 0.3 m thick layer of mushroom compost over the limestone. AMD with pH of 3.5–4.3, dissolved oxygen of 6.6–9.9 mg/L, iron of 1.9–5.4 mg/L, and aluminum of 0.8–1.9 mg/L flooded each cell to a depth 0.65 m above the treatment substrates, percolated through the substrates to underlying, perforated outflow pipes, and then flowed through the aerobic pond and wetland before discharging to the Schuylkill River. Data on the flow rates and chemistry of the effluent for the treatment system indicated substantial neutralization by the calcitic limestone but only marginal effects from the dolomitic limestone or compost. Because of its higher transmissivity, the treatment cell containing only limestone neutralized greater quantities of acidity than the cell containing compost and limestone. On average, the treatment system removed 62% of the influent acidity, 47% of the dissolved iron, 34% of the dissolved aluminum, and 8% of the dissolved manganese. Prior to treatment of the Bell Discharge, the Schuylkill River immediately below its confluence with the discharge had pH as low as 4.1 and supported few, if any, fish. However, within the first year of treatment, the pH was maintained at values of 5.0 or greater and native brook trout were documented immediately below the treatment system, though not above.