Limited carbon sources prevent sulfate remediation in circumneutral abandoned mine drainage
Passive remediation systems (PRS) use both biotic and abiotic processes to precipitate contaminants from abandoned mine drainage (AMD) so that the contaminants do not spread into local watersheds. PRS are efficient at removing heavy metals but sulfate remediation frequently does not occur. To understand the reasons for the lack of sulfate remediation, we studied four PRS that treat circumneutral AMD and one raw mine drainage discharge. Using 16S sequencing analysis, microbial community composition revealed a high relative abundance of bacterial families with sulfur cycling genera. Anaerobic abiotic studies showed that sulfide was quickly geochemically oxidized in the presence of iron hydroxides, leading to a buildup of sulfur intermediates. Supplementation of laboratory grown microbes from the PRS with lactate demonstrated the ability of actively growing microbes to overcome this abiotic sulfide oxidation by increasing the rate of sulfate reduction. Thus, the lack of carbon sources in the PRS contributes to the lack of sulfate remediation. Bacterial community analysis of 16S rRNA gene revealed that while the microbial communities in different parts of the PRS were phylogenetically distinct, the contaminated environments selected for communities that shared similar metabolic capabilities.