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Soil pH, oxygen availability, and the rate of sulfide oxidation in acid sulfate soil materials: implications for environmental hazard assessment

Nicholas J. Ward A B , Leigh A. Sullivan A and Richard T. Bush A
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- Author Affiliations

A Centre for Acid Sulfate Soil Research, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW 2480, Australia.

B Corresponding author; email:

Australian Journal of Soil Research 42(6) 509-514
Submitted: 11 July 2003  Accepted: 3 May 2004   Published: 17 September 2004


The potential environmental hazard of acid sulfate soil (ASS) materials is directly related to both the net acidity and the rate that actual acidity is released from these soil materials into the environment. While current environmental hazard assessment techniques for ASS materials are able to quantify the net acidity, they do not take account of differences in the rate of sulfide oxidation (the dominant source of actual acidity) and differences in the rate of acidification. In this study the rate of sulfide oxidation during incubation was examined for 4 ASS materials. The effect of pH and oxygen availability on the rate of sulfide oxidation was assessed. The ASS materials were incubated in: (i) gauze where oxygen diffusion was not restricted, and (ii) sealed 100-µm-thick plastic bags which greatly limited oxygen diffusion. When oxygen diffusion was not restricted, an accelerated oxidation of sulfide occurred when the pH decreased below pH 4.0. The accelerated rate of sulfide oxidation at such low pH did not occur when oxygen diffusion was limited. This study indicates that the initial pH of an ASS material is a useful additional indicator of the potential environmental hazard of an ASS material when oxygen is expected to be non-limiting, such as when ASS materials are excavated and stockpiled. The recommended action criteria need to be reassessed, as the data indicate that the current criteria are conservative for alkaline and neutral ASS materials, but should be lowered for all acidic ASS materials (i.e. pH <5.5) to 0.03% sulfide regardless of texture.

Additional keywords: pyrite oxidation, acidification, chromium reducible sulfur, soil incubation.


This research was undertaken as part of Project 1.4 ‘Coastal soil processes and their management for sustainable tourism development’ funded by the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Sustainable Tourism.


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