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Benefits and Risks of Submarine Tailings Disposal — Lessons Learnt From Two Historic Mine Sites in Newfoundland and Other Canadian Case Studies

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  • Submarine tailings disposal is conceptually an attractive option for managing reactive mine wastes in coastal regions by virtue of reduced sulfide oxidation under a water cover and no infrastructure to maintain after mine closure. However, the lack of detailed knowledge of metal leaching, dispersal of fine tailings and biological impacts in the marine environment has led to no operating permits currently in effect in Canada. Detailed chemical and ecotoxicological assessments at two historic copper mine sites (Little Bay and Tilt Cove) in the north coast of Newfoundland with tailings disposed in an estuarine to shallow (≤100 m) marine environment have demonstrated reduced reactivity of sulfidic tailings when submerged under water. Only non-acute toxicity is detected in biota inhabiting the immediate vicinity (1 km) tailings disposal are discussed. To determine if submarine tailings disposal in deep, confined basins on the seafloor is environmentally friendly, detailed multi-disciplinary research incorporating physical, chemical, biological and toxicological components will be indispensable.

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