Progress & Goals
Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.
Description - Related to EPA Goal, Research & Development goal and Risk Management Research goals: Mining activities in the United States (not counting coal) produce between 1 and 2 billion tons of mine waste annually. These activities include extraction and beneficiation of metallic ores, phosphate, uranium, and oil shale. Over 130,000 of these noncoal mines, concentrated largely in nine western states, are responsible for polluting over 3,400 miles of streams and over 440,000 acres of land. About seventy of these sites are on the National Priority List for Superfund remediation. In the 1985 Report to Congress on the subject, the total noncoal mine waste volume was estimated at 50 billion tons, with 33% being tailings, 17% dump/heap leach wastes and mine water, and 50% surface and underground wastes. Since many of the mines involve sulfide minerals, the production of acid mine drainage (AMD) is a common problem from these abandoned mine sites. The cold temperatures in the higher elevations and heavy snows frequently prevent winter site access. The combinations of acidity, heavy metals, and sediment have severe detrimental environmental impacts on the delicate ecosystems in the West.
Problem: An effective ecosystem management approach to protection and restoration activities requires firm understanding of both the existence and cause of impairment. Significant watershed characteristics that may influence aquatic conditions and that can help predict and diagnose the cause of biological impairment need to be identified.
Approach: There are priority areas for research, in the following order of importance:
Source Controls, Including In Situ Treatments and Predictive Techniques
It is far more effective to attack the problem at its source than to attempt to deal with diverse and dispersed wastes, laden with wide varieties of metal contaminants. At-source control technologies, such as sulfate-reducing bacteria; biocyanide oxidation for heap leach piles; transport control/pathway interruption techniques, including infiltration controls, sealing, grouting, and plugging by ultramicrobiological systems; and AMD production prediction and control techniques should strive toward providing a permanent solution, which of course is the most important goal of the program.
Improvements in short-term end-of-pipe treatment options are essential for providing immediate alleviation of some of the severe environmental problems associated with mining, and particularly with abandoned metal mines. Because immediate solutions may be required, this area of research is extremely important for effective environmental protection.
In the spirit of pollution prevention, much of the mining wastes, both AMD (e.g., over 25 billion gallons of Berkeley Pit water) and the billions of tons of mining/beneficiation wastes, represent a potential resource as they contain significant quantities of heavy metals. While remediating these wastes, it may be feasible to incorporate resource recovery options to help offset remedial costs.
- Hardrock Mining 2002, conducted in May 2002, was an opportunity to examine and discuss current and future environmental issues shaping the mining industry with an emphasis on case study analysis and technology verification. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Research and Development and EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) sponsored the 3-day event. MWTP provided funding and sponsorship. Attendees exchanged scientific information serving to enhance remediation and cleanup of both legacy and current mining wastes and to contribute to a sustainable U.S. modern mining industry. NRMRL's Technology Transfer staff completed a CD that includes the conference materials, presentations, posters, and transcripts of plenary speakers. Call (513) 560-7804 to obtain the CD.
- The Mine Design, Operations, and Closure Conference 2002, conducted in April 2002 continued last year's interagency cooperation. The 5-day event was cosponsored by the U.S. Forest Service; U.S. Bureau of Land Management; Montana Department of State Lands; MSE Technology Applications, Inc.; Haskell Environmental Research Studies Center; several other private companies; and Montana Tech. During the conference, experts presented overviews on such topics as predictive chemical modeling for acid mine drainage, mine water quality source control, state-of-the-art containment technologies, and innovative pit reclamation. Over 130 mineoperators, consultants, and professionals from the private and public sectors attended the conference.
- The Mine and Mineral Waste Emphasis Program has an enrollment of 10 students with all of them receiving funding from MWTP. This is an interdisciplinary graduate program that allows students to major in their choice of a wide variety of technical disciplines while maintaining an emphasis in mining and mineral waste.
- A group of Mine and Mineral Waste Emphasis graduate students attended the Mine Design, Operations, and Closure Conference 2002.
- A cooperative agreement is in place for work with the Haskell Environmental Research Studies Center at Haskell Indian Nations University.
- Graduate students in the Mine and Mineral Waste Emphasis Program are working on projects in Activities IV.
- As part of the Native American Initiative, Montana Tech presented five short courses: Mining and the Environment at Fort Belknap, and Acid Rock Drainage at both Fort Belknap and Salish Kootenai College. An environmental learning community was set up to house the short courses and Web courses to make them accessible to Native American communities around the country. One Web course, Environmental Planning for Small Communities, is on-line.
Total expenditures during the period October 1, 2001, through September 30, 2002, were $3,687,532, including both labor and non-labor expense categories.