Mineral Processing Waste

(See endnote 32)

Mineral processing waste is typically different from the original mineral because of the change in chemical content caused by the process of smelting, electrolytic refining, use of acids, or a digestion process of extracting and concentrating the minerals from the surrounding material. The toxicity range of the waste is based on the mineral involved and the means of removing it from the surrounding material during processing. The types of mineral commodities are vast and therefore cannot be addressed as a single entity. Some of the minerals include aluminum, antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, magnesium, manganese, mercury, selenium, strontium, uranium, etc. Unfortunately, 133 waste streams from 30 different commodity sectors out of 553 waste streams from 48 commodity sectors have been determined to contain hazardous waste as defined in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Best Practices in Handling Mineral Processing Waste (See endnote 33)

Each mineral processing system has its own special technical process and identified waste. The US EPA has an online document entitled “Mineral Processing Waste.” Clicking on “technical documents” at the bottom of the page will bring up another page listing an important group of individual mineral commodity reviews. Each review discusses the nature and use of the commodity; names of companies producing it; production process and related diagrams; and what material goes to waste disposal. This information along with the EPA’s compliance assistance website will help the reader gain specific information about a specific commodity. Reviewing the entire field of mineral processing waste is beyond the scope of this book. However, there are some general Best Practices which should be followed by all mineral processing companies:

  • • Complete a full set of tests to determine what minerals are present in the material and waste and in what concentrations in order to evaluate potential hazards to people and the environment.
  • • Establish a mineral waste management plan based on the specific needs of the industry and have it enforced at the highest levels of management.
  • • Minimize the mass of material to be stored and determine the safest means of storage based on existing regulations and potential future problems.
  • • Make sure that all storage facilities are physically and chemically safe and will not contaminate the environment or cause health problems to workers.
  • • Rehabilitate all materials that can be recycled safely to aid in the minimization of waste.
  • • Use dust control procedures during the sorting, crushing, and washing of rocks and in raw materials storage, loading, and processing.
  • • Develop good housekeeping practices for the entire facility in order to minimize dust and other potential problems from the mining material.
  • • Employees should wear appropriate personal protective devices as needed based on the potential hazards from the minerals and mineral waste.
  • • Install permanent diversions of surface water from areas where mineral waste is stored or raw materials are kept.
  • • Build roads from the construction site and the facility which are very limited in producing dust problems and can withstand the weight of the equipment as well as the different weather conditions.
  • • Maintain all equipment in such a manner that it does not produce environmental contaminants.
  • • Do not allow any floor drains to be connected to storm or sanitary sewers.
  • • Drain all fluids from materials prior to disposal and treat the fluids before releasing to any body of water or on the land.
  • • Immediately clean up all leaks and spills which could contaminate surfaces, soil, water, and the air.
  • • Use a concrete pad for all fueling operations and provide check valves for the fueling hoses and spill and overflow protection devices. (See endnote 37.)
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