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MEI Online: Environmental Issues: Latest News: May 15th 2013


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:: Advanced Test Developed to Detect Risk of Toxic Drainage


WA’s ChemCentre has begun a research initiative to further understand and curb Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), one of the leading environmental concerns produced by mining and development sites. The Western Australian Government laboratories have recently begun the two-year initiative that will research faster and more cost-effective preventative scientific methods able to detect AMD-related risks.

AMD - also known as Acid Rock Drainage - can occur when minerals containing sulphides are exposed to water and air due to ground disturbance from development. The oxidation of these minerals produces highly acidic water that can drain into the water table and local streams, causing environmental damage.

ChemCentre’s director for project development Dr. Neil Rothnie says current kinetic tests conducted by mining companies - which assess the probability of AMD occurring during the mining process and after mine closure - can take up to two years and are not always suited to WA’s environment. “We need new tools to enable us to predict what the effects [of AMD] are going to be on groundwater and surface water in 50 or a 100 years time. “First of all we have to shorten the cycle a little bit, rather than wait the two years. “The tests [new methods] will never actually replace the kinetic testing, but they will enable us to identify potential risks very, very early on," Dr Rothnie says, adding that with early detection of high risk areas mining companies can implement better environmental strategies.

Despite the scale of the mining industry in WA thorough research on preventative methods has not been widespread, and Dr. Rothine says that regulatory criteria and public expectance has brought about change. "Obviously we live in a more demanding environment in what we expect in terms of future impacts on the environment, and we have an increased understanding of the implications [of AMD]," he says. "It’s all about raising the standard."

The initiative will help environmental impact assessments conducted by mining and government bodies, as well as informing current mining ventures on the best way to manage and store waste. According to Dr Rothnie, the development of the new testing methods will require at least two years, as they will be conducted alongside current long-term kinetic tests. “What we have to prove is that the results that we get from these short term tests accurately reflect what you will see in the longer term test," he says.

It is hoped that ChemCentre’s research will help improve mine closure plans to avoid future environmental issues.




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