Hydrous Silica Coatings: Occurrence, Speciation of Metals, and Environmental Significance

Si-enriched coatings form on the surface of silicate minerals under acidic conditions. Although they are often only a few nanometers thick, their large specific surface area may control the interaction between silicate minerals in acidic soils, aquifers, and mine tailings. Micrometer thick, hydrous-silica coatings occur on the surface of a granite outcrop in contact with acidic pond water at the Coppercliff mine-tailings area in the Greater City of Sudbury, Ontario, and are ideal to study the concentration and speciation of metals and metalloids inside Si-enriched coatings. These coatings have higher average concentrations of Cr, Mn, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, and Pb than coatings composed of schwertmannite, Fe<sub>8</sub>O<sub>8</sub>(OH)<sub>4.4</sub>(SO<sub>4</sub>)<sub>1.8</sub> (H<sub>2</sub>O)<sub>8.4</sub>. Microscopic and spectroscopic examination of the hydrous-silica coating indicates the occurrence of Fe- and Cu-Zn-oxy-hydroxide particles, tetrahedrally coordinated Fe<sup>3+</sup> and a high proportion of <i>M</i>−O−Si bonds (<i>M</i> = metal). These observations suggest that metals occur either finely distributed in the hydrous-silica matrix or in oxy-hydroxide particles. The latter particles are products of the diffusion of metals into the hydrous silica and the subsequent nucleation of oxy-hydroxide phases.