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Mineral Processing 2002 Conference Workshop: Environmental Issues and Water Management in Mineral Processing
Cape Town, South Africa, 31st July 2002

1. Attendance

The workshop was attended by 64-70 delegates, comprising approximately:
- 8 independent environmental engineering consultants specialising in mining and mineral processing. Some of the major companies represented included Metago, SRK and Digby Wells & Associates
- 22 technical representatives from the local mining and mineral processing industry (including both research and operational divisions). The various Anglo divisions and operations were particularly well represented, although delegates from Avmin and Lonmin were also present- 6 representatives from the service industries (including Larox, Pelichem and Hatch)
- 28 representatives from both national and international universities and other research organisations

2. Comments on Workshop Content

2.1 General Observations

The aim of the workshop was to address issues of water and tailings management, sustainable development and integration of environmental management in process design, and the significance of these aspects in mineral processing options. A good blend in terms of general overview and technical case study papers as well as representatives from various interest groups resulted in this aim being achieved to a high degree of success.

The workshop was particularly successful in stimulating communication and an exchange of ideas between industry, consultants and researchers. This, in turn, served to create an enhanced awareness of the current environmental practises within, and problems faced by, mining and mineral processing operations, as well as the research activities currently being conducted in regards to these issues.

2.2 Technical Overview

The first 3 papers, by Paul Jourdan, Roberto Villas-Boas and Michael Solomon, dealt with a fairly holistic view of sustainable issues in the mining industry, providing an interesting and stimulating background and perspective to the more technical aspects of water and general environmental management. The general consensus seems to be that, on a project basis, mining is a temporary and hence an inherently unsustainable activity.

However, in terms of its ability to generate secondary and tertiary industries (capital goods, services, consumables, manufacturing, technology development etc), mining has the potential to be highly sustainable and a major driving force for economic, social and political development, particularly in third world countries. The realisation and development of this potential requires considerable collaborative action from governments, communities and corporations, in terms of both general policies and strategies as well as more comprehensive/holistic mine life cycle planning

Although the technical papers were of a high standard in general, two papers in particular generated substantial interest and discussion. These included a paper by Andrew Wood from SRK, which provided an excellent overview of the opportunities and limitations to improve water management and environmental protection in the mining and mineral processing industries, as well as a paper by Peter Gunther from Anglo Coal, which dealt with technologies for the treatment of AMD.

The general management of water resources and post-closure environmental impacts appear to be two environmental issues of particular concern to the local mining and mineral processing industries at present. Mining and mineral processing operations are under considerable economic and environmental pressure to improve and optimise the management of water resources, both in terms of maximising usage and minimising impacts. Concerns regarding post-closure liabilities, in terms of both regulatory restrictions and remediation costs, appear to be mainly related to long-term seepage from tailings and residue dumps, and flooding of discontinued mine shafts.

In dealing with these issues, environmental and operational engineers are faced with significant challenges. These include:
- Insufficient transfer of research-based knowledge and technologies
There appeared to be a general consensus that, although a lot of significant research and development had and still was being undertaken in the environmental field, transfer and implementation of this knowledge is not taking place effectively and timeously.
- Complexities involved in the implementation of integrated environmental management systems
Although the recent trend towards a more integrated approach to environmental management is generally perceived to be a step in the right direction, environmental engineers and other technical operators appear to be finding the complexities involved in the implementation of such systems to be problematic, particularly in terms of delaying the decision making and mitigation implementation processes. The lack of tools and methodologies, particularly ones which are practical as well as time and cost-efficient, is forcing many operational engineers to adopt an any action is better than no action approach, which is preventing proactive particularly in terms of adopting cleaner technologies as opposed to end-of-pipe treatments and closure planning.- Legislation which is considered to be unreasonable, controversial and ever-changing

Particular interest was demonstrated in research currently being conducted on AMD

3. Conclusions and Recommendations

Workshops of this nature play an important role in improving links between industry and research organisations, and ensuring that research activities will ultimately result in improved process performance, through both the development and transfer of viable technologies as well as the enhancement of national expertise.

Key elements to the success of such workshops include:
- Defining clear workshop objectives that are linked to current challenges and shortcomings in terms of industry practises
- Ensuring that the content of the papers and presentations are in line with such objectives
- Ensuring that the relevant interest groups are well represented.

4. Acknowledgements

A special thanks to Meg Winter and her team for their organisational skills, hard work and professionalism.

Jennifer Lee Broadhurst, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Cape Town, South Africa.




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