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Hardrock Mining: Pollution Prevention


In terms of mining, pollution prevention is the maximum feasible reduction of the quantity and/or toxicity of all wastes generated at a mining operation. It involves the judicious use of resources through source reduction, energy efficiency, reuse of input materials during production and beneficiation, and reduced water consumption.

Pollution Prevention Hierarchy

The pollution prevention hierarchy is a prioritized approach for identifying appropriate pollution prevention measures. The goal is to start at the top of the hierarchy and identify the best, most feasible option for each waste stream. Source reduction, the best pollution prevention measure, includes spill prevention, product substitution, process modification, and improved technology. Reuse is the reuse of wastes in a legitimate and beneficial manner. Recycling/reclamation is the capture of usable materials from a waste with varying degrees of processing.

Some mining examples of the pollution hirearchy are:

  • Source reduction: substituting toxic chemicals with nontoxic chemicals, siting
    waste piles away from surface water, storing hazardous materials on level
    ground away from water, eliminating the use of solvents for parts cleaners,
    separating and isolating acid producing rock, and using drip instead of spray

  • Reuse: reusing tailings conveyance piping, reusing appropriate waste rock for
    stream-bank stabilization, and reusing mine water for wetland maintenance
    or construction

  • Recylce/Reclaim: reprocessing tailings, recycling scrap metal, recycling shop
    solvent, and recyling mine water in beneficiation processes

    Pollution Prevention Opportunity Assessment

    Pollution prevention is best implemented through a pollution prevention opportunity assessment. The assessment is a relatively simple process involving a comprehensive review of all waste management practices to identify potential pollution prevention opportunities.

    1. Identify available resources, case studies, technical papers, and technical

    2. Conduct a waste assessment.

    3. Identify pollution prevention options.

    4. Assess the feasibility of options

    5. Select pollution prevention options.

    6. Prepare a pollution prevention implementation plan.

    7. Periodically analyze the results and modify the program as necessary.

    Spill Prevention

    Preventing spills and releases are the most cost effective and easiest pollution prevention measures to implement. Spill and release prevention can be accomplished through a program of inspection and response. Inspection involves identifying conditions that either indicate that a release has occurred or could cause or exacerbate releases. Response includes correcting these conditions before a spill or release occurs. In addition, the following actions can all reduce the likelihood of a spill or a release:
  • Conducting proper pre-operation planning
  • Monitoring conditions constantly and instituting corrections when necessary
  • Using proper waste and hazardous material storage equipment (e.g. secondary
    containment and double-walled tanks)

    The information contained on these pages is a general statement of policy. It does not establish or affect legal rights or obligations. It does not establish a binding norm and is not finally determinative of the issues addressed. Agency decisions in any particular case will be made by applying the law and regulations to the specific facts of the case.