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What Can Mining Companies do about Water Pollution?
10 December 2018
What Can Mining Companies do about Water Pollution?

Mining companies use a significant amount of water. It is used for processes such as processing minerals, getting rid of dust and for employees’ needs. And this water is also polluted by many of these processes. 

There are some measures that can be taken by mines who operate near a mine water treatment plant, such as looking into reducing the amount of water used in mining processes and preventing acid mine or rock drainage (AMD). The mine water treatment technologies are improving all the time, so if you want to contribute to reducing water pollution in the industry, read on below for some helpful advice. 


Managing tailings

Tailings, or slurry, is the waste materials that are collected after minerals have been extracted from ore. It is mostly made up of finely ground rock and water. And it is an aspect of mining that needs to be properly managed, otherwise, it will contribute to water pollution. 

Your tailings management strategy should account for both before and after the mining project. This means that you will have to work it into your deadline, as it is irresponsible not to look after the environment once you have left. One example of mining wastewater treatment is to line the tailing pond with strong liners to prevent the water from entering the soil or to plant wetland plants around the pond to absorb the water and stop it from affecting the environment. These treatment processes are cost-effective and long-lasting. 


Prevent acid mine drainage

There are several options for acid mine drainage treatment in South Africa, all of which have come about due to the realisation that it is a highly harmful aspect of mining. AMD is water that has been exposed to the mining process and is now acidic, causing surface-water pollution across the globe. 

To prevent AMD, you could implement strategies such as adding lime or other neutralising chemicals to the water. This will eliminate the acidity in the water and soften it, reducing its contaminant levels. Another effective way to prevent or reduce AMD is to build an artificial wetland to reduce the formation of sulfuric acid in the water. Be sure that all materials used in this wetland are alkaline so that they can reduce and remove the acid from the mine water. 

Reuse water for other purposes
You will not be able to reuse the AMD water or the tailings water, but you can opt to reuse greywater that is produced by your mine. For example, you can use the water used for cleaning floors to flush the toilets or to clean equipment. This way, you will be reducing the amount of water you use on a daily basis. 

You should also install water solutions, such as a rainwater catchment tank, so that you can use this water for cleaning equipment, flushing toilets and for watering the grounds of the mine project. Potable water should be conserved as much as possible and only used for drinking purposes. You could look into accessing water from a desalination plant, as this will allow you to use a large volume of water without using too much of this precious resource. 


Clean up abandoned mines

One aspect of mining that contributes massively to AMD is the abandoned mines that we see dotted around the country. These abandoned mines should be cleaned up and closed. In order to eliminate acid mine drainage, the materials used to close them must be alkaline and should not have any hazardous chemicals in them. 

The polluted water from the abandoned mines should be pumped into a tailings pond and the holes in the mine should be closed with rocks, sand or clay. This will stop the acidic water from leaking out and damaging the environment. Be sure to dispose of any waste in an eco-friendly and responsible manner to prevent any future pollution. Mine water should never be accessible by the public due to the low water quality and toxicity, so be sure to close off the mine once you are finished with the project. 


Revegetate the surrounding environment

In order to combat the effects of water and land pollution around mines, you should look into revegetating the surrounding environment. This involves replacing the native soil of the area and replanting indigenous plants and trees once your project is over. 

By replenishing the surrounding environment, you are reducing the impact of the mine and ensuring that the soil and the plants are not completely damaged for the future. You will need to remove all hazardous materials from the site and dispose of them responsibly. You can create a wetland around the site in order to absorb the leftover water and decrease what is left from the project. Plant indigenous plants and plants that can handle an arid environment. 

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