Plant-derived phenolic compounds impair the remediation of acid mine drainage using treatment wetlands

Rachel A. White, Chris Freeman, Hojeong Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The use of wetlands to remediate acid mine drainage has expanded rapidly since the realisation that acid coal mine drainage running into natural sphagnum wetlands undergoes an increase in pH and a precipitation of metals. However, our study suggests that the inclusion of plants in the acid mine drainage treatment system may be questionable, due to inefficiencies caused by exudation of dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and in particular its phenolic constituents. They complex with iron, causing increased solubility, the exact opposite of what is required to facilitate amelioration. The addition of minewater to planted wetland mesocosms initially caused a decline in Fe concentrations, typically from over 1100 to a low of 75mgL-1. However, it increased higher than 300mgL-1 after 15 days. The rise in iron occurred concurrently with DOC and phenolic increases; 15-69 and 5-15mgL-1, respectively, for Eriophorum angustifolium. Removal of DOC by precipitation with calcium lowered the DOC abundance, but without a simultaneous decrease in iron concentration. The concentration of one fraction of the DOC, phenolic compounds, did not decline, and we propose that the Fe was complexed with that phenolic DOC pool. The proposal was confirmed by enzymic depletion of the phenolic compounds using phenol oxidase. Our findings suggest that phenolic complexation represents a potent constraint on wetland-based bioremediation of iron in acid mine drainage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-175
Number of pages4
JournalEcological Engineering
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Feb

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Royal Society and Natural Environment Research Council, UK, for funding this research. H. Kang is grateful to National Research Foundation (2009-0092795), EcoRiver 21, EcoTechnopia and EcoSTAR for the financial supports.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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