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The Brukunga Pyrite Mine — A Field Laboratory for Acid Rock Drainage Studies

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  • The Brukunga pyrite mine was operated from 1955 to 1972 to supply feedstock for sulfuric acid production in the South Australian fertilizer industry. Iron sulfide ore, mined by Nairne Pyrite Ltd, was finely crushed and concentrated onsite with the concentrates being sent by road and rail to Port Adelaide for roasting. Waste rock was dumped at two locations on the western side of Dawesley Creek and the tailings pumped to a valley-fill storage facility on the eastern side. Production of 1.5 Mt concentrate resulted in 3.5 Mt tailings and 8 Mt waste rock. The site has been administered by the South Australian Government since August 1977 and a lime treatment plant has been operated on the site since September 1980. Environmental issues arising from these operations included: • diversion of Dawesley Creek to accommodate the waste rock dumps; • dumping of low-grade sulfidic ore in waste rock dumps at the angle of repose immediately adjacent to Dawesley Creek; • exposed fresh sulfide mineralisation in the quarry floor; • tailings storage facility dam wall constructed by upstream up-lift using tailings and waste rock; • an acid water pond sited on the tailings; and • pollution of natural drainage. As a result, the minesite rapidly became a source of acid drainage and potential contaminants (sulfate, Al, Fe, Mn, Cd, Zn, and Ni). Various Government bodies have been responsible for considerable effort and expenditure in reducing the flow of acid seepage and contaminants into Dawesley Creek. Presently an estimated 60 per cent of seepage from the waste rock dumps, tailings storage facility and quarry is collected and neutralised prior to discharge into the creek. Tailings have been covered with waste rock, biosolids, neutralisation sludge and soil and planted with grasses, shrubs and trees to reduce rainfall infiltration. Monitoring of water flows, water quality and riparian ecosystems is on-going. Consultants have been engaged to develop cost-effective remediation techniques and a five-member Brukunga Mine Site Remediation Board was appointed to oversee remediation of the site and liaise with the community. Construction has commenced on the diversion of Dawesley Creek, and plans are being developed for the relocation of waste rock back to the quarry benches and upgrading of the neutralisation plant. The paper examines operations, environmental monitoring, remediation, research and community involvement with respect to current best practice.

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