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Field Characterisation of Two Full-Scale Waste Rock Piles

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  • A comprehensive field program was implemented to evaluate the internal structure and hydrology of two full-scale waste rock piles. The excavation of waste rock dumps for in-pit disposal at the two mine sites provided an opportunity to characterise the in situ properties of the dumps given contrasting geologic and climatic settings. The internal structure and materials within the dumps were observed and sampled as the waste rock piles were being excavated and placed in the open pits for permanent closure. The field program was designed to fully characterise the structure and material properties of the waste rock. The alteration of the material by physical and chemical weathering was also observed. Samples were analysed for paste pH, water content, grain size distribution and geochemistry. In situ density and matric suction were also measured. Soil water characteristic curves and saturated hydraulic conductivity were measured for representative materials. These properties were used to predict seepage pathways through the waste rock and the resulting outflow geochemistry using the finite element model SEEP/W. The materials in the dump at Site 1 were predominantly fine-grained in texture and highly weathered. The presence of dipping beds with alternating coarse and fine materials was evident throughout the profile of the dump. The structure of the waste rock appears to have an impact on the hydrologic pathways within the waste rock pile. The material in the dump at Site 2 was found to be competent and resistant to particle size breakdown. The particles range in size from clay size to large boulders with the median particle size being approximately 125 mm in diameter. The coarse-grained texture of the waste rock resulted in a loosely packed arrangement of coarse particles with little matrix material infilling the pore spaces between the coarse-grained particles. Seepage modelling for Site 1 was completed to predict seepage paths based on observed structure and hydraulic properties measured in the laboratory. The modelling showed that materials with a fine grain size distribution become the dominant pathways for flow through the waste rock pile. The modelling also showed that layers with high silt and sand contents are subject to the highest flow rates. Finer grained clay rich layers have a low hydraulic conductivity and do not convey large volumes of water. Alternately, coarse gravel and cobble materials are unsaturated under values of matric suction that approach the residual water content of the material and do not transmit liquid water. The seepage modelling together with the results of the geochemical analysis show that the dominant particle size that receives the most fluid flow and flushing ranges from fine sand to silt, corresponding to materials with air entry values ranging between 5 kPa to 50 kPa.

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