The University of Arizona Superfund Basic Research Program (UA SBRP) hosted a workshop in Tucson, Arizona, entitled, “Mine Tailings Stabilization in Arid and Semi-Arid Environments: Assessment, Problems, and Solutions”, June 5-6, 2008. This international Workshop, sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), focused on eolian and water-borne dispersion of arid and semi-arid mine tailings, and identifying research needs in this area.
In arid and semi-arid areas of the world such as the western United States, northern Mexico, and parts of South America, Africa, Australia, China, and India, mine tailings and their associated contaminants are prone to eolian dispersion and water erosion. These problems are extensive and persist for decades because these sites lack normal soil stabilization processes including the establishment of a plant cover and the associated development of soil structure. These sites can have profound health consequences when located near communities as well as severe environmental consequences especially for sites found in sensitive riparian or wildlife refuge areas. These issues will only be exacerbated by climate change which is expected to increase aridity in many of these areas. To date, standard protocols have not been developed for low-cost extensive stabilization strategies for these sites.
The Workshop Goal was to open lines of communication between academia, industry, regulators, and policy makers to discuss issues, current worldwide practices, and possible innovative strategies to improve global management and stabilization of mine tailings in arid and semi-arid environments.
The Workshop involved 52 international experts from Australia, Mexico, South Africa, Tohono O’odham Nation and the United States. This group worked together to provide global perspectives to facilitate improvements in the management of tailings, to evaluate human health impacts from exposure to tailings, and to explore novel approaches to reclamation of mine tailings. A product of the Workshop will be a jointly published white paper.