What are tailings ponds?
Typically, tailings ponds are large areas used as a dumping ground for mining
tailings (waste material after the good stuff has been extracted). This is where the waterborne refuse material is pumped into a large man-made pond to allow the sedimentation (meaning separation) of solids from the water. The pond is generally impounded with a dam, and known as tailings impoundments or tailings dams.
Tailing ponds are not uncommon, unfortunately. There exists an estimated 3,500 of these developments worldwide. A big part of the issue with tailings ponds, at least here domestically in North America, is that 39% of them fail. Which, in short, means the leaching of potentially hazardous waste around the infected site, which has the ability to extend even further due to the viscous nature of some of the tailings materials excreted from tailings ponds.
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.
The underlying issue with this “residue” of sorts is that the rock particles and other potentially intrusive chemicals may undergo post-process chemical reactions during storage that can generate additional byproducts – which, to a large degree, are harmful to the environment – such as acid and other dissolved metals that can easily leach into waterways and destroy fragile ecosystems in the surrounding area (which, in bad cases, can spread further). These reactions happen unusually quickly in tailings because small particles have a very high surface area where reactions can take place, compared to bigger particles.
As we’ve alluded to, many substances found in tailings can be toxic.
Assorted potential hazardous waste that can build up in tailings ponds include:
- Naphthenic acids
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
- Phenolic compounds
- And more…
What can we do to minimize the potential risks involved with 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 tackifier
- Geotextile retaining walls
- Hard surface applications
- Dust control for pond surfaces once they dry out
- And much more…