Sulphidic mine tailings are among the largest mining wastes on Earth and are prone to produce acid mine drainage (AMD). The formation of AMD is a sequence of complex biogeochemical and mineral dissolution processes. It can be classified in three main steps occurring from the operational phase of a tailings impoundment until the final appearance of AMD after operations ceased: (1) During the operational phase of a tailings impoundment the pH-Eh regime is normally alkaline to neutral and reducing (water-saturated). Associated environmental problems include the presence of high sulphate concentrations due to dissolution of gypsum-anhydrite, and/or effluents enriched in elements such as Mo and As, which desorbed from primary ferric hydroxides during the alkaline flotation process. (2) Once mining-related operations of the tailings impoundment has ceased, sulphide oxidation starts, resulting in the formation of an acidic oxidation zone and a ferrous iron-rich plume below the oxidation front, that re-oxidises once it surfaces, producing the first visible sign of AMD, i.e.
, the precipitation of ferrihydrite and concomitant acidification. (3) Consumption of the (reactive) neutralization potential of the gangue minerals and subsequent outflow of acidic, heavy metal-rich leachates from the tailings is the final step in the evolution of an AMD system. The formation of multi-colour efflorescent salts can be a visible sign of this stage.