What are the worst effects of mining waste?

We are seeking to target mining waste that is both very detrimental AND prevalent.

What are the worst effects of mining waste on communities and the environment? How extensive are these effects? Are they quantifiable?

Share any links, research documents, visualizations, or other resources that you have seen!

In the course of our Prize Design research we’ve heard a lot about Acid Mine Drainage (AMD); how it gets deposited into nearby streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater, degrades water quality, and kills aquatic life. Would anyone in the community have any data that can quantify this issue? For example, how many and what size rivers/habitats/communities are affected, and what health issues AMD poses for humans?

Another more brutal effect on our planet is the failure of tailings dams. An unacceptable number fail worldwide every year, most publicly San Marco in Brazil in 2015 and Brumadinho, also in Brazil, earlier this year.

Click here for Andy Home’s Reuters article.

The long-term effects of AMD on society are probably worse, but the short-term damage from tailings dam failures is acute, in lives lost and damage caused. The link between cause (mining) and effect is also very visible, something that sometimes gets lost when thinking about AMD, which can be confused in peoples’ minds with other forms of pollution like phosphate fertilisers.

I teach sustainable mining practices at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I often direct my students to watch the Timbarra Gold Mine documentary (http://www.cutv.ws/documentary/watch-online/festival/play/7550/Demon-Fault) that has all the socio-environmental elements in it.

@Simit Thank you for sending us the Timbarra Gold Mine documentary. What particular topics in this documentary speak to you? In reference to our current discussion on waste in the industry, can you tell us where you think innovation is needed the most? And have you seen any innovations in the industry that you find promising? We would love to hear your insights.

@declan Thank you for your insights on tailings dam failures. We are looking at them closely in our prize design, and the article you linked to directed toward World Mine Tailings Failures which has a valuable database on failures over the last century. We have heard that some newer processes are looking at preventing tailings altogether, while other technologies are looking at better management and/or regulations. Where do you think the industry should look as a way forward? Do you have any examples of best practices or innovative technologies to help the mining industry better deal with its waste or possibly prevent it altogether? We would love to hear your thoughts and vision for the next generation of mining.

We used a decision support framework to guide information gathering and prioritization of many of such waste streams from the mineral industry. The high-ranking waste streams became the focus of the R&D team. For some of these by-products conceptual ”zero waste” flow sheets were developed, which were then evaluated through test work and LCA analysis. Perhaps a similar approach could be adopted by the XPrize team.

Hi @declan @Sharif and @Simit - great input, thank you! We have a couple new discussions this week we’d also love to see your thoughts on: Tailings Remediation and Tailings Prevention!

One of our student Ms. Saba Sarin did her doctoral on this topic recently and demonstrated clearly that flyash can be put back in AMD-prone worked out areas of an opencast colliery to reduce pH to such a level that it start supporting vegetation .

@RPSINGH Thank you for sharing some of Ms. Sarin’s research. It would be great to learn more about her findings.

Long time with no comments
Let me mention other three unwisheable effect of waste:
Tailing dams convert natural soils in innert waste. Moreover, in raining areas , for security reasons, they will need to be operated until the end of the times, even after the mining company clousure, therefore society will carry the burden.
In high mountains areas, waste dumps need to be located as closed as possible to the mine, thus affecting glaciers in many cases.
Copper smelter produce SO2 as waste and part of it goes to the atmospher, producing the effect of acide rain