Great Plains/Rocky Mountain Hazardous Substance Research Center, 101 Ward Hall, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506-2502, (785) 532-6519
As part of ongoing efforts to focus research and technology development activities on timely, relevant issues, the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain Hazardous Substance Research Center (HSRC) in cooperation with the National Mine Land Reclamation Center (NMLRC) and the Waste-management Education and Research Consortium (WERC) conducted a special event titled "Mining, Mine Lands, And The Environment -- Research And Infrastructure Needs." This event was held on the evening prior to the official start of the 12th Annual Conference on Hazardous Waste Research in Kansas City, Missouri, where panelists and audience members from research, government and industry groups discussed environmental technology needs for active and historic mining activities. The event involved approximately 60 participants, began with a reception, and consisted of presentations and discussions among panelist and audience members. Throughout the event, a number of recurring themes prevailed in several topic areas, as summarized below.
ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT NEEDS
Passive, inexpensive technologies are necessary to detoxify mining by-products, to enable beneficial re-use, re-sale and waste minimization. Examples of such technologies include vegetative stabilization and remediation, membrane filtration and chemical chelation processes.
Techniques for re-establishing vegetation and increasing water-holding capacity, pH, and nutrient levels are necessary to support vegetation and self-sustaining ecosystems. Substitutions for topsoil materials are one example of needed work in this area. Reliable, effective revegation methods will allow companies to recover their reclamation bonds in a timely manner.
Plugging materials and techniques are required to mitigate physical hazards associated with abandoned mining areas. Less costly and more effective slurry, concrete and other fill materials are necessary.
Industry and regulators need accurate prediction tools (models) to quantify possible impacts and probable outcomes of planned mining and restoration activities. These tools must accommodate limitations due to sparse data and variations in climate (and related variability information), to adequately identify and simulate subsurface reactions that control contaminant movement. Such tools will simplify permit preparation, review and approval activities, and possibly enable less complicated monitoring strategies. Associated cost savings can be re-directed to executing reclamation/pollution prevention plans.
Many mining laws are applied on a national scale and are not tailored to geographic areas. Regulatory standards and approaches which account for specific geographic and geologic circumstances are necessary.
Concentration-based environmental regulatory standards do not currently address bioavailability and ecosystem response from different forms (species) of contaminants (particularly metals). These standards also do not address natural habitat variations over time which affect contaminant concentrations, and are very difficult to measure. Methods to predict and measure ecosystem responses, using reliable biological assessment techniques, may provide for more realistic, effective regulatory standards. Field measurement capability for any regulatory standard is a must.
Decision support systems to help resolve conflicting regulations, public opinion, and combinations of both are also needed.
INFRASTRUCTURE TO ADDRESS TECHNOLOGY NEEDS
Due to the closure of the U.S. Bureau of Mines and downsizing of other federal programs, funds available to support mining related research are limited. Collaborative, applications-oriented research and problem solving is necessary to realize the most benefit from available funds. The HSRC, NMLRC, and WERC are cooperating to collectively address the above (and other) needs, through university-based research and technology transfer activities. Participating universities with strong ties to the mining industry and regulatory organizations are invited to participate in this initiative. A number of universities have been addressing these environmental technology issues; however, a greater effort is needed.
Electronic data and document exchange across organizational and functional boundaries can save time and effort in mine reclamation planning and permitting. The Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining (OSM) is sponsoring development and training for electronic permitting techniques to speed development, transfer and review of permit applications among involved field, lab, contractors, corporate, and regulatory organizations - using consistent computer formats and protocols. These eliminate the need for organizations to re-input or re-manipulate the data during the transfer and review process. The OSM is conducting workshops to facilitate this and other information exchange/training among the mining industry.
Development of flexible, useable regulations that can accommodate new technologies is needed. For example, performance-based approaches allow for flexibility in how a specific standard will be met.
Fast access to information on successful new and promising technologies currently (or formerly) under development is necessary for effective regulatory activities. Coordinated internet pages, repository listings (and inventories) and resource centers can provide this access. Such mechanisms should link resources with applicable information across industry and institutional boundaries.
Adequate quantity and division of funds are necessary to support basic research that develop new ideas, through progressively more applied and larger scale applications. The NMLRC uses a three tiered approach and funds basic research/new ideas with internal (federal) funds, but seeks increasingly more extramural co-funding for applied, large-scale extensions of promising new ideas.
Significant conjecture exists regarding who should finance additional mining-related environmental research and technology development activities. Sponsors generally expect direct benefit from the research, such as savings in cost (to the mining industry) or decreased environmental hazards (to the public), or combinations of both. Additional research support which will reduce reclamation costs is in the public interest.
CONCLUSIONS AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Industry, regulators and researchers agree that new technologies are needed to effectively address and regulate environmental issues at active and historic mining sites, and that additional funds to conduct this research are needed. Collaborative, applications-oriented research and technology development among universities, federal, state and private organizations will maximize use of expertise and funds. Many of the organizations represented by panelists at this session are a part of or are developing collaborative approaches.
Due to the interest and positive response to this session, future HSRC conferences will include similar events. This event was sponsored by the Research and Re-education for Displaced Defense Personnel (R2D2) program, and was one of several professional development opportunities for students in this program. The names and contact information for participating panelists, are listed below.
LISTING OF PANELISTS
Douglas Bland - Mining and Minerals Division, State of New Mexico EMNRD, DougBland@emnrdsf.state.nm.us
James Brown, U.S. Geological Survey (off-site input), 520-670-6671(x280)/5592(f)
Tim Canfield, USEPA Kerr Environmental Research Laboratory, 405-436-8535(v)/8703(f)
Larry Erickson - Director, Great Plains/Rocky Mountain Hazardous Substance Research Center, email@example.com, 785-532-2380/5985(f)
Fred Fox, Kennecott Corp (off-site input), 801-322-7000/8398(f)