Passive in situ remediation of metal-polluted water with caustic magnesia: evidence from column experiments

Environ Sci Technol. 2003 May 1;37(9):1971-7. doi: 10.1021/es026018m.


Passive remediation consists of a permeable system that enables the water to pass through while retaining metals by means of biogeochemical reactions. Conventional passive treatments are based on calcite dissolution. This increases the pH to values between 6 and 7, which are insufficiently high to precipitate divalent metals. Alternative treatments are based on sulfate reduction with organic matter in order to precipitate metal sulfides. However, redox reactions are usually too slow to treat large groundwater flows as currently found in gravel aquifers (>50 m/a). Caustic magnesia obtained from calcination of magnesium carbonate was tested as an alternative material to devising passive remediation systems. Caustic magnesia reacts with water to form magnesium hydroxide, which dissolves, increasing the pH to values higher than 8.5. Then zinc and lead are mainly precipitated as hydroxides, copper is precipitated as hydroxysulfate, and manganese(II) is oxidized and precipitated as manganese(III) oxides. Thus, metal concentrations as high as 75 mg/L in the inflowing water are depleted to values below 0.04 mg/L. Magnesia dissolution is sufficiently fast to treat flows as high as 100 m/a. The new precipitates may lead to a permeability drop in the porous treating system. Mixtures of caustic magnesia and an inert material such as silica sand (approximately 50% of each) have been shown to be as reactive as pure magnesia and permeable for a longer time (more than 10 months and 1000 pore vol).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antacids / chemistry*
  • Chemical Precipitation
  • Geological Phenomena
  • Geology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Magnesium Oxide / chemistry*
  • Metals, Heavy / chemistry
  • Metals, Heavy / isolation & purification*
  • Permeability
  • Silicon Dioxide / chemistry
  • Water Purification / methods*


  • Antacids
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Magnesium Oxide
  • Silicon Dioxide