Arsenic speciation in pyrite and secondary weathering phases, Mother Lode gold district, Tuolumne County, California
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Arsenic speciation in pyrite and secondary weathering phases, Mother Lode gold district, Tuolumne County, California


Arsenian pyrite, formed during Cretaceous gold mineralization, is the primary source of As along the Melones fault zone in the southern Mother Lode Gold District of California. Mine tailings and associated weathering products from partially submerged inactive gold mines at Don Pedro Reservoir, on the Tuolumne River, contain approx. 20-1300 ppm As. The highest concentrations are in weathering crusts from the Clio mine and nearby outcrops which contain goethite or jarosite. As is concentrated up to 2150 ppm in the fine-grained (<63 mu-m) fraction of these Fe-rich weathering products. Individual pyrite grains in albite-chlorite schists of the Clio mine tailings contain an average of 1.2 wt. percent As. Pyrite grains are coarsely zoned, with local As concentrations ranging from approx. 0 to 5 wt. percent. Electron microprobe, transmission electron microscope, and extended X-ray absorption fine-structure spectroscopy (EXAFS) analyses indicate that As substitutes for S in pyrite and is not present as inclusions of arsenopyrite or other As-bearing phases. Comparison with simulated EXAFS spectra demonstrates that As atoms are locally clustered in the pyrite lattice and that the unit cell of arsenian pyrite is expanded by approx. 2.6 percent relative to pure pyrite. During weathering, clustered substitution of As into pyrite may be responsible for accelerating oxidation, hydrolysis, and dissolution of arsenian pyrite relative to pure pyrite in weathered tailings. Arsenic K-edge EXAFS analysis of the fine-grained Fe-rich weathering products are consistent with corner-sharing between As(V) tetrahedra and Fe(III)-octahedra. Determinations of nearest-neighbor distances and atomic identities, generated from least-squares fitting algorithms to spectral data, indicate that arsenate tetrahedra are sorbed on goethite mineral surfaces but substitute for SO4 in jarosite. Erosional transport of As-bearing goethite and jarosite to Don Pedro Reservoir increases the potential for As mobility and bioavailability by desorption or dissolution. Both the substrate minerals and dissolved As species are expected to respond to seasonal changes in lake chemistry caused by thermal stratification and turnover within the monomictic Don Pedro Reservoir. Arsenic is predicted to be most bioavailable and toxic in the reservoir's summer hypolimnion.

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