Learning of Tailings Dams
Mining has been carried out and performed by humans for thousands of years. Mining techniques and
procedures have changed as technology and industrialization has made the mining process more
effective and streamlined the way in which precious minerals and useful ores are gleaned from the
But the reason for drilling, blasting, panning, and sifting through layers of the earth’s crust has always
remained the same; they are searching for and finding items and minerals that humans perceive as both
valuable and therefore tradable goods. However, just as the reason for this search for the precious has
not changed, neither have its ill effects upon the earth.
As demand for precious minerals and materials have increased over the past century so has the profit of
mining operations. Technology has allowed for mining companies to industrialize with the rest of the
world’s major industries.
The global economy that simultaneously developed alongside and was a byproduct of industrialization
has also allowed small mining operations and companies to transform into massive mining corporations
and employers of thousands. Their methods for extracting minerals have also advanced as has their
total scale of operation.
As mining procedures and corporations have developed and increased in size so has the waste and
byproduct put out by those corporations during the mining process. Historically, there has always been
waste produced by mining operations
Precious metals, minerals and other resources
that are mined from the earth are incased, by
their very nature, by invaluable but natural
materials like rock and soil. To retrieve the
valuable materials from the invaluable excess
that surrounds them, mining operations use
multiple methods and techniques that separate
the dross from the prize.
This dross or useless material that surrounds the
intrinsic material that mining corporations are searching for is called gangue. Gangue is the collective
term for all types of undesired material that incases precious material and therefore can include any
number of minerals but should not be confused with the general waste rock and minerals or materials
that cover the area rich with precious ores that is known as overburden.
Overburden is removed by mining operations by conventional methods of extraction such as digging and
blasting. But to successfully remove gangue from the ore that is being mined, modern mining
operations will typically employ two standard methods.
The first is called placer mining in which water and gravity are used to separate and extract the precious
minerals from the gangue that surrounds it. The second method use to separate intrinsic from non-
intrinsic materials is called hard rock mining and involves pulverizing the ore into small particles and
then using chemicals to successfully sift through and isolated the precious materials.
The waste produced by either of these methods is called tailings. Tailings are the consequential
byproduct of any mining operation and therefore must be disposed of by the corporation or mine.
To do this, mining operations create massive reservoirs of polluted waste held back by mounds of earth
that create what’s called a tailings dam. From a tailings dam the pollutants and waste seep into the
earth poisoning existing aquifers and ground water.
Measuring and keeping track of this pollution is vitally important to ensure that necessary mining
operations continue but at responsible levels of byproduct.