Tailings Disposal

Weiss, Norman L.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 19
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1985
The full importance of tailings disposal is yet to be realized by the mining industry, but our awareness of its present and future implications is growing faster, perhaps, than any single phase of ore processing. Few engineers can look very far into the future because of the complexity of the problems that may confront us if we project from the general indifference of past years through what we are already being expected to correct in existing operations, to confrontations with new statutes and an awakened public in any new plants hence- forth. The mistakes of the past have not been limited to the United States nor even to other countries of the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, all continents and subcontinents have suffered from myopia in releasing the tailings without retaining responsibility. However, the US as one of the world's great leaders in technology has a particularly unimpressive record. It may be safely generalized that the degree of control applied to the tailings of a milling operation has depended upon several factors more important than national boundaries. Thus in arid and semiarid climates no incentive was needed other than the scarcity of water to create a permanent and stable lodgment for mill tailings. On the other hand. where water has been plentiful. the temptation to let the tailings run into a river or lake or ocean (at least at certain times of the year) was often irresistible. So we find that modem tailings disposal in the southwest deserts of this country, with one or two notable exceptions where very serious breaks seem to occur at regular intervals, is satisfactory according to the standards of the 195QF and 1960s. while in various operations in Idaho, Michigan, western Colorado. Newfoundland, and elsewhere the record has been less praiseworthy. In the same way, cyanide plants which did not concern themselves about leakage, seepage, spillage, or wastage of tailings pulps with solutions containing toxic levels of free or combined cyanide soon heard a demand for better control. In consequence the industry has seen a growing use of cyanide regeneration of tailings or wash solutions, elimination of leakage, and careful structuring of tailing dams. The chemical and thermal qualities of tailing waters have occasionally been a spur to good tailings management. Some tailings disposal problems for example, the southeastern Florida phosphate clays and the Bayer red muds-have been given the intensive study they merited, but not always with much success.
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