Reducing Sulphur Contamination in Mining Wastewaters

Sulfur-contaminated wastewater is the largest global mining-related environmental liability, with a legacy cost of trillions of dollars. Ontario researchers are applying genomics technologies to develop innovative monitoring, management and treatment tools. These innovations will safeguard the quality in receiving waters, better monitor, manage and reduce toxicity, and generate new tools to support cost-benefit decision-making.

The Canadian mining sector is a cross-country presence, with mines in every province and territory contributing more than $57 billion to the economy (3 percent of Canada’s GDP) and employing over 375,000 people. As pressures on Canada’s freshwater water supplies grow, the sector as a whole, is seeking to develop the most sustainable approaches to mining possible. Mining wastewaters contain sulphur compounds, which can cause acidification and toxicity in receiving waters if not properly managed. Currently the industry lacks effective monitoring tools and innovative biological solutions to better control these contaminants.

Dr. Lesley A. Warren of the University of Toronto, along with Dr. Jillian Banfield of University of California, Berkeley, is leading a project that will apply genomics, geochemistry and modeling to mining wastewaters to develop innovative biological monitoring, management and treatment tools. The integration of genomics will provide understanding of bacterial opportunities in these wastewaters for new flexible management and treatment options to safeguard the quality of wastewater.

Lesley Warren, McMaster University, and Stephanie Marshall, Glencore, discuss how their collaboration can help better understand the role of microbes and how genomics information can be used to meet the goals of environmental stewardship, efficiency and sustainability in the mining industry.

Quick Facts
  • This project — the first of its kind in Canada and possibly the world — involves three mining and two environmental consulting companies, provincial and national sector industry associations and government.
  • Project collaborators are focused on ensuring the project’s findings are applied to lowering costs, decreasing risk of environmental damage, reducing liabilities for the industry and developing better safeguards for Canada’s vital freshwater supplies.
  • The project includes a research component to develop a Risk and Options Assessment for Decision-making. This process will enable translation of the team’s scientific knowledge into a nested set of decisions to help guide mining operational practices, corporate strategic planning and policy development.

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