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Consolidation and Arching Potential of Slurry Backfill



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Soil-bentonite (SB) slurry walls are one of the most popular techniques for minimizing the horizontal migration of contaminants. Backfill arching, or “hang-up” of the backfilled slurry, on the wall trench has the potential to significantly reduce the effectiveness of these barriers. This research was conducted to supplement the design and installation of an 11,000 m long slurry wall at PotashCorp’s mine in Rocanville, Saskatchewan. The slurry wall is being installed through low permeability glacial till containing permeable granular zones. This study was undertaken to improve the understanding of vertical stress distribution in these deep barriers. In particular, the objective of this study was to develop an understanding of the factors controlling arching and hydraulic conductivity (k) of SB walls. Slurry wall “hang-up” or arching is dependent on shear along the wall of the trench and on a coefficient of lateral earth pressure (K). Consolidated drained (CD) shear box tests were conducted to study the shear strength parameters of the backfill mixes. Six inch proctor mold was modified with load cells on the side walls to measure horizontal stresses along with consolidation. This was used to calculate coefficient of lateral earth pressure, K (which is the ratio of horizontal to vertical effective stress). The results of the laboratory testing program found that K was relatively independent of the percentage of fines present in the SB mix. It also showed that backfill angle of internal friction and k of the backfill decreased with increased fines content. The results of the laboratory testing program were used to model the vertical stress distribution in deep walls. An analytical model (discrete model) and a coupled seepage stress-strain finite element model (FEM) were used to predict vertical stress changes with time and depth for the different backfill materials. The primary conclusion of this research is that slurry wall backfill arching or “hang-up” significantly delays the magnitude and timing of vertical stress build-up in backfill. This loss of vertical stress results in backfill with lower density and higher hydraulic conductivity. The situation was found to be most critical for deep narrow slurry walls. Any advantage in using a coarser graded backfill was offset by higher backfill hydraulic conductivity. The net result is that the upper portions of slurry walls may not be able to achieve their hydraulic conductivity objectives as soon as expected, if at all. In addition, the backfill in the upper portion of the trench may be susceptible to chemical attack and osmotic consolidation. Construction of a 2 m high surcharge berm over the slurry wall was found to increase vertical effective stress and result in significantly lower (2 to 8 times) hydraulic conductivity values in the top 5 metres of the trench. The final hydraulic conductivity (k) at a depth of 5 m was approximately 75 % lower with a surcharge berm. Thus, construction of a surcharge berm over the slurry wall helps to satisfy the k requirement for SB walls and lowers the risk of osmotic consolidation.



Arching, Soil-Bentonite, Consolidation, Hydraulic conductivity



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Civil and Geological Engineering


Civil Engineering


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