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The Integrity of Cover Systems — An Update

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  • Soil cover systems are routinely used to reduce acid rock drainage (ARD) from mine waste rock dumps and tailings impoundments. A technology for the analysis, design, instrumentation and monitoring of barrier-type (oxygen limiting) and store/release-type covers has rapidly developed and the number of covers under construction has grown extensively during the past ten years. Mine operators are currently investing in this relatively new technology with the expectation that these covers will reduce long-term liability with respect to acid generation, drainage and treatment costs. While the design life for cover systems may extend into hundreds of years, we have less than ten years of construction experience and proven performance. Some cover designs appear to be functioning well; however, the performance of many more is now being called into question. The paper presented herein evaluates the integrity of cover systems from a global perspective. Soil cover systems for the control of ARD are being constructed at mine sites located within high rainfall equatorial regions, deserts ranging from low to high latitude, humid temperate regions, and cold-continental climates. While the technology for analysis and design of soil cover systems is well developed, factors that compromise the performance of cover systems (in addition to the paramount issue of climate) relate to material selection and availability, cost and construction practices. Long-term performance is also strongly affected by physical stability (ie erosion), volume change (ie cracking, desiccation, settlement and freeze/thaw cycling), vegetation, soil evolution and ecological stability. This paper provides a review of the application of soil cover systems for the control of ARD. Cases where cover systems have been constructed with both success and failure are illustrated. General criteria and recommendations for cover selection, design, construction, and maintenance are provided.

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