Like tailings ponds, tailings dams are dangerous. And, at any given time that bit of danger can raise exponentially. In the pond setting, there’s a certain degree of containment because of the literal makeup of the thing it is – a pond. With a dam, you’re talking about a structure that can fail with little to no warning. And when the dam goes down (or springs a leak), look out…
What are tailings?
Tailings are the leftover byproducts stemming from mining and extracting resources, such as removing the bitumen from oilsands, or minerals such as copper, silver or gold from ores. Tailings include:
- Finely ground rock particles, which range in proportions from sand-sized to silt-sized particles.
- The harmful chemicals that are actively used to extract the valuable mineral or oil.
- And, quite simply, water.
What is a tailings dam?
According to our friends at Wikipedia:
“A tailings dam is typically an earth-fill embankment dam used to store byproducts of mining operations after separating the ore from the gangue. Tailings can be liquid, solid, or a slurry of fine particles, and are usually highly toxic and potentially radioactive. Solid tailings are often used as part of the structure itself.
There are key differences between tailings dams and the more familiar hydroelectric dams. Tailings dams are designed for permanent containment, meant to “remain there forever”. Copper, gold, uranium and other mining operations produce varied kinds of waste, much of it toxic, which pose varied challenges for long-term containment.”
Okay, so, where are we going with this?
Well, given the byproducts within, we’ve drawn a decent sketch as to how harmful a tailings related breach might be. It’s estimated that there are currently 3,500 active tailings impoundments standing around the world today. And while we can put a number on the physical structures, there’s gray area as to the knowledge of what lays within as there is no complete inventory, of what exists in each tailings dam environment.
To that, a frightening “Did You Know?” is that, as of the turn of this very century, existing tailings dam structures worldwide experience known major failures to the tune of about 2 to 5 annually, along with 35 minor failures. According to www.mining.com 10% of tailings dams are compromised to some extent… Even a minor flaw can lead to serious detriment to the surrounding environment and immediate ecological health of the compromised dam and it’s geographic locale. Tailings dam failures can seriously damage the environment by releasing toxic metals, acids, and other unfriendly environmental hazards. Such known hazards might include:
- Naphthenic acids
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
- Phenolic compounds
- And more…
What can we do to minimize the potential risks involved with tailings dams and/or tailings ponds and their high yield of failures?
Build up the way we construct the dam around the potentially harmful site. Global Environmental Solutions offers various products and application techniques to stabilize tailings dams both short and long term.
Applications are including but not limited to:
- Surface stabilization with spray applications of polymer
- Revegetation using DirtGlue® polymer tackifiers
- Geotextile retaining walls
- Hard surface applications
- Dust control for pond surfaces once they dry out (check out one of our products, DustLess® for a strong solution/option
- And much more…