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About Mine Waste Technology

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

Mining waste generated by active and inactive mining production facilities and its impact on human health and the environment are a growing problem for Government entities, private industry, and the general public. The nation's reported volume of mine waste is immense. Presently, there are more than sixty sites on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List.

Total estimated remediation costs for these states range from $4 to $45 billion.

Health effects from the predominate contaminants in mine waste range from mild irritants to proven human carcinogens, such as cadmium and arsenic. The large volume of mine wastes and consequential adverse environmental and human health effects indicates an urgency for cleanup of abandoned, inactive, and active mining facilities. The environmental future of the United States depends in part on the ability to deal effectively with mine waste problems of the past and present, and more importantly, to prevent mine waste problems in the future.

According to a 1985 report to Congress, mining and related activities generate anywhere from 1 to 2 billion tons of waste each year with a current total waste volume of 50 billion tons. Of this total volume, approximately 85% is attributed to copper, iron ore, uranium, and phosphate mining and related activities. Approximately one-half of the waste generated is mining waste, one-third is tailings, and the balance consists of dump/heap leaching wastes and mine water.

The fiscal year (FY) 1991 Congressional Appropriation allocated $3.5 million to establish a pilot program in Butte, Montana, for evaluating and testing mine waste treatment technologies. The Mine Waste Technology Program (MWTP) received additional appropriations of $3.5 million in FY91, $3.3 million in FY94, $5.9 million in FY95, $2.5 million in FY96, $7.5 million in FY97, $6.0 million in FY98 and FY99, and $4.3 million in FY00.

The projects undertaken by this Program focus on developing and demonstrating innovative technologies at both the bench- and pilot-scale that treat wastes to reduce their volume, mobility, or toxicity. To convey the results of these demonstrations to the user community, the mining industry, and regulatory agencies, MWTP includes provisions for extensive technology transfer and educational activities. This report summarizes the progress MWTP made in FY00.


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