Selective radionuclide co-sorption onto natural minerals in environmental and anthropogenic conditions

Rahul Ram, Chris Kalnins, Mark I. Pownceby, Kathy Ehrig, Barbara Etschmann, Nigel Spooner, Joël Brugger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Anthropogenic activities can redistribute the constituents of naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM), posing potential hazards to populations and ecosystems. In the present study, the co-sorption of several RN from the U decay chain– 238U, 230Th, 226Ra, 210Pb and 210Po, onto common minerals associated with mining activities (chalcopyrite, bornite, pyrite and barite) was investigated, in order to identify the various factors that control long-term NORM mobility and retentivity in environmental acid-mine drainage systems and hydrometallurgical processing. The results show selective RN co-sorption to the various natural minerals, suggesting that mineral-specific mechanisms govern the variability in NORM mobility and retentivity. Both 226Ra and 210Po underwent significant sorption onto the natural minerals investigated in this study. The order of co-sorption in sulfate media for chalcopyrite and bornite was 210Po>226Ra>206Pb>210Pb>238U/230Th. Conversely, both pyrite and barite showed increased affinity for 226Ra; the order of co-sorption in sulfate media was 226Ra>210Po>206Pb/210Pb>238U/230Th for pyrite and 226Ra>206Pb/210Pb>230Th/238U/210Po for barite. Similar orders of co-sorption were observed in the nitrate media: for chalcopyrite and bornite the order was 210Po>226Ra/206Pb/210Pb/238U/230Th compared to 226Ra>210Po/206Pb/210Pb/238U/230Th for pyrite and barite. The behavior of 210Po was found to the anomalous: in both sulfate and nitrate solutions, 210Po had little affinity for barite compared to the sulfides. Thermodynamic modeling indicated the formation of a reduced PoS(s) phase at the surface of sulfide minerals, leading to the suggestion that 210Po likely undergoes reductive precipitation on the surface of sulfide minerals. The high sorption of both 206Pb and 210Pb observed in the sulfate systems were likely as a result of co-precipitation as insoluble anglesite compared to nitrate where they mainly remained in solution. Overall, barite showed the highest affinity for 226Ra, given its propensity to sorb 226Ra (similar ionic size). Both 238U and 230Th were highly mobile in acidic sulfate and nitrate solutions. The results highlighted here identify the various constraints on the natural variability and fractionation of NORM in the environment, as well as the mineral-specific mechanisms that control co-sorption of RN. This information provides a framework for predicting RN transport within soils and ground waters with variable geochemical conditions and in metallurgical extraction processes, in order to develop effective strategies towards NORM mitigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124989
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2021


  • Radionuclide co-sorption
  • Selective affinity
  • Sulfate minerals
  • Sulfide minerals

Cite this