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Water Research Institute to study aluminum filtration for mines

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Research into better ways to remove aluminum from coal mine discharges funded by the state Department of Environmental Protection is unrelated to the agency's proposed change to state water quality criteria for aluminum.

The West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University will study filtration methods to reduce levels of aluminum discharged from mine reclamation sites, the university announced April 2.

The $44,000 study is sponsored by the DEP's Office of Special Reclamation.

DEP has previously been allowed to meet "technology-based" limits on aluminum in mine discharges at sites that were abandoned by coal operators and have become the agency's responsibility, explained Mike Sheehan of that office.

But now the agency is under a 2015 schedule to place water quality-based permit limits on those discharges, and some of the sites discharge aluminum at levels that would violate those limits.

"We've identified some sites we're having problems with and we're just trying to plan for the future to have something ready to go when these new limits come along," Sheehan said.

Typical industrial filtration systems — ion exchange, reverse osmosis and microfiltration membrane systems — are prohibitively expensive to run on mine discharge. This study addresses that problem.

The WVWRI study will be conducted at Monongalia County mines abandoned by Z&F Development Co., Valley Mining Co. and Stewartstown Coal Co.

Each site already has a treatment system for acid mine drainage.

The system at the Z&F site consists of hydrated lime feeding and a series of baffled ponds. Addition of quick lime and a series of settling ponds with curtain baffles make up the system at the Valley Mining site. And treatment at the Stewartstown site consists of four baffled ponds.

The WVWRI has identified four filtration media to test and will test the four different media at each of the three sites.

The researchers will conduct weekly field sampling for the next six months to determine the effectiveness of each of the four treatment units. Findings will be presented to the Office of Special Reclamation.

The public hearing DEP held on March 27 on a proposed change to the state's aluminum water quality criteria is unrelated to this study, Sheehan said.