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The cycling of iron and sulfur in mine tailings depends on various chemical and microbial reactions. The present study was undertaken in order to assess the role played by populations of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) on the fate of Fe and SO42− in Cu–Zn and Au tailings. Samples were taken along a 50-cm deep profile at all sites and analyzed for SRB populations, solid-phase mineralogy and porewater geochemistry. Results indicated that the Cu–Zn tailings were highly oxidized near the surface, as shown by the very low pH, high redox potential, large concentrations of soluble Cu, Zn and sulfate in the porewaters, and the depletion of pyrite. On the other hand, Au tailings were more pH neutral, slightly anoxic, and showed low concentrations of Fe and SO42− in the porewaters and very little pyrite oxidation. SRB populations in the Cu–Zn tailings increased with depth, just below the oxic/anoxic interface and were linked to a decline of sulfate and DOC concentrations around the same depths. However, large concentrations of dissolved Fe were also observed around the same depth intervals. Our results suggest that SRB could be involved in sulfate reduction in the Cu–Zn tailings, because the solubility of sulfate was not controlled by the precipitation of sulfate-rich minerals. However, the presence of soluble Fe in the reduced portion of the tailings was also indicative of the presence of iron reducing bacteria (IRB). These bacteria were not enumerated in the present study, but their co-occurrence with SRB has been reported in the past in similar mining environments. The decline of sulfate and the release of soluble iron into the porewaters were also paralleled by a pH increase and the generation of alkalinity. In the Au tailings, SRB populations were generally constant throughout the depth profile and could not be ascribed to sulfate reduction in the porewaters. The solubilities of sulfate and iron in these tailings were partially controlled by jarosite and Fe-oxide minerals. It is then clear that SRB populations could be recovered from various mining sites, but their activity cannot be ascertained based on microbial enumeration and geochemical data.

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