A Silver Lining for Mining
We can easily recognize these tangible benefits from mining. But have we considered the potential for mining by-products – the dust and particles, sludge and residue that’s left once we’ve mined what we came for?
Dr. Grant Douglas has. As project leader for CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science agency, Dr. Douglas has a suggestion:
A joint project between CSIRO and Western Australian Department of Water found that mineral mining by-products may be a cost-effective, plentiful and yes, green, option for removing key nutrients that contribute to algal blooms – a rapid increase in the population of algae in an aquatic system.
Algal blooms can multiply quickly, turning water green, creating thick green layers under water or scum on the surface. Algal blooms can block sunlight from reaching underwater vegetation and can wreak havoc on an ecosystems oxygen levels. Harmful algal blooms can release toxins that are harmful to fish, birds and people.
Cue mining by-products.
“The largely unexploited by-product materials we generate in Western Australia could be developed as ‘designer’ contaminant adsorbents,” Dr Douglas said.
When added to a soil, certain mineral mining by-product was very effective in removing nitrogen and phosphorous, both elements that occur naturally but can cause imbalances in aquatic ecology if present in high amounts. Using the by-product this way would be equivalent to removing about two tons of the same elements annually from groundwater in the Australian Swan Coastal Plain.
With similar mining by-products and water conditions, these findings could be valuable to any waterway in the world.
Click here for more information on the study.