Microanalytical evaluations of the Savage River Old Tailings Dam, North-west Tasmania
Jackson, LM and Parbhakar-Fox, A and Hughes, A and Agius, J and Ferguson, T and Lester, D, Microanalytical evaluations of the Savage River Old Tailings Dam, North-west Tasmania, Proceedings of the Tailings and Mine Waste Management for the 21st Century Conference 2015, 27-28 July 2015, Sydney, Australia, pp. 111-123. ISBN 978 1 925100 30 3 (2015) [Refereed Conference Paper]
Management of historic tailings is a major challenge facing the mining industry and its regulators. However, through improved mineralogical and chemical characterisation of such materials the opportunity to develop better rehabilitation strategies arises. Microanalytical techniques including microscopy, mineral liberation analysis and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS) allow for improved tailings characterisation – but the challenge posed by these techniques is how to use them effectively. Additionally, data sets collected by such techniques must be properly integrated, only then can they assist in the identification of the most appropriate rehabilitation strategies. A study conducted at the Old Tailings Dam (OTD) located at the Savage River Mine, Tasmania allowed for the integrated use of several microanalytical techniques to help evaluate the benefits of a shallow water cover as a potential rehabilitation strategy. Samples (n = 144) from 14 trenches and 11 boring cores (2 m maximum depth) were collected across the OTD. These were subjected to routine acid-base accounting, with a subset subjected to detailed mineralogy using a modified sulfide alteration index (SAI), X-ray diffractometry and mineral liberation analysis (MLA). In addition, representative samples (n = 6) from across the OTD were subjected to laser-ablation ICPMS to characterise the pyrite chemistry. Our results showed that tailings in the northern area submerged under a natural water cover were relatively unoxidised from approximately 1 m depth, with SAI values of 1 to 2. Tailings from the subaerial southern portion were extensively oxidised to approximately 35 cm depth (SAI = maximum 5.8), with fresher materials observed underneath (SAI = 5 to 5.8). Pyrite from across the OTD is enriched in Co, Cu and Ni. Through the integrated application of microanalytical tools, we determined that establishing a water cover of at least 1.5 m depth across the OTD is a suitable rehabilitation option for this historic site. However, consideration for the reprocessing of these tailings to extract Co should be further investigated.