Mining activities and infrastructure development cause significant changes in the landscape and lead to environmental, social, and economic impacts in surrounding areas.
One of the results of such activities is waste production, which must be properly stored or disposed of. Waste is called by-products generated during mineral processing. Such a process is never fully efficient, and there are always waste products left behind that are not usable, such as:
- Uneconomical metals
- Crushed rock
- Organic substances
- Petroleum by-products, sulfuric acid, and cyanide
- Process water
Such residues can be disposed of in various ways, as many factors must be considered, such as the amount of waste, topography, ground conditions, the type of material extracted, and the surrounding environment. All these aspects should be analyzed to create the most suitable and, above all, safe design. It happens that the volume of waste exceeds the volume of valuable materials extracted. Hence, the scale of this phenomenon is enormous and must take place under strict supervision due to the dangers it can carry. Tailings are toxic materials, the proper storage or disposal of which is one of the most critical factors in caring for the environment and communities.
Methods of construction of tailings disposal facilities
Where new dam elevation levels are built on top of previously deposited tailings. However, this is a hazardous method that should be avoided.
Where new dam elevation levels are built outward from the tailings and on top of previous elevations.
Where new dam elevation levels are built on top of the tailings, as well as on top of the existing dam. This method is a combination of both upstream and downstream techniques.
There have been relatively few disasters in history involving the collapse of landfill structures. Still, those that have occurred have usually had tragic consequences, as we can, unfortunately, see in the recent example in South Africa, the Jagersfontein disaster, about which there is still much speculation and the non-accidental nature of which there is much controversy. An outpouring of waste caused significant damage to the environment and society.
Monitoring each stage of a mining project has a massive impact on its safety, efficiency, and productivity. There are no less essential stages because they affect each other leading to specific effects that are often irreversible.