Special Session – Artisanal and small-scale mining and waste: geotechnical and geoenvironmental aspects
Joan M. Larrahondo
Associate Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia
Sebastián Quintero Olaya
Senior Research Technologist, School of Civil Engineering, The University of Queensland, Australia
Large-scale mining, including the extraction of commodities like coal and gold, is still a significant contributor to the GDP of many countries. However, in several emerging economies, more than half of mining activities are informal, in many cases illegal as they lack permits from mining or environmental authorities. In such countries, a large fraction of mining production is due to artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), which is performed with very limited resources, infrastructure, equipment, and occupational safety. ASM processes and waste, including tailings, typically contain highly toxic processing chemicals, e.g., mercury and cyanide, which are frequently released directly into natural water bodies or disposed of in poorly-engineered Tailings Storage Facilities (TSFs). This leads to severe detrimental consequences for miners, public health, and the environment. ASM is responsible for a sizeable portion of brownfields in developing countries and contributes to major fiscal losses at the governmental level due to royalty evasion. Furthermore, despite the availability of some international databases with information on contaminated sites and TSFs (e.g., the GRID Arendal’s Global Tailings Dam Portal Project, and the NGO Pure Earth’s Contaminated Sites webpage), the number of registered ASM sites is very likely underreported. In general, wealthy nations have established rigorous regulations on mining practices and mining waste management in terms of civil and environmental design, construction, operation, and closure. On the other hand, developing countries typically have incipient or no regulatory frameworks, or regulations that cannot be enforced due to security reasons within illegal mining areas. The proposed technical session aims to foster valuable discussions regarding the engineering, environmental, economic, and/or social impacts induced by ASM processes and waste. The session’s papers and presentations are expected to address geotechnical and geoenvironmental aspects of ASM and associated mining waste including, but not restricted to, ASM tailings behavior, ASM case studies, and management or remediation of contaminated ASM sites. Ultimately, this session intends to contribute to the understanding of regional challenges that result from complex problems generated by ASM.