Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Study highlights historic mining activities in Ireland

The results of a major multi-agency study into old mine sites in Ireland was released last week at a workshop hosted by The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The study - Historic Mine Sites Inventory and Risk Classification - Volume 1 Geochemical Characteristics and Environmental Matters - gathers together all the available information on historic mine sites in Ireland and significant new information derived from site investigations. It identifies the issues that need to be addressed in the future rehabilitation of mines in Ireland.

Over 100 sites in 32 mining districts were assessed in the course of the investigation - ranging in size from the largest historic mine sites in Ireland, where mining took place in recent decades, to smaller sites where there has been little or no mining activity for many decades. The EPA, the GSI and the Exploration and Mining Division of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR), worked together on this study.

The objectives of this work were -

1. to identify any significant risks to the environment and human and animal health at these historic mine sites so that these risks can be managed and the sites made safe - and
2. to plan ahead for the forthcoming EU Directive on the Management of Wastes from the Extractive Industries. This Directive will, among other things, require EU Member States to prepare an inventory of closed waste facilities within their jurisdictions by 1 May 2012.

The project includes -

* An inventory of historic mine sites in Ireland, compiled in digital and GIS format;
* A compilation of all relevant information on each site in GIS format;
* Site investigation and characterisation reports for each of the sites - and
* A methodology for risk-ranking these sites to establish the level of risk to the environment and to human and animal health associated with them.

Commenting on the publication of the report and associated products, Dara Lynott, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said - “This work will leave Ireland well placed to comply with the future requirements of the EU Directive. These assessments will shape our actions for the remediation of these sites for future generations.”

The study concluded that, of the 32 mining districts assessed, 22 districts will not require any interventions, 7 districts will require further monitoring and 3 districts (Tynagh, Silvermines and Avoca) will require additional site-specific risk assessment by the landowners.

Mr Eamon Ryan, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Mr Conor Lenihan, Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation welcomed the report and its findings, as it provides a scientific basis for classifying the various mine sites and identifies the main issues and mine sites of concern.


Ireland is obliged under Article 20 of Directive 2006/21/EC on the Management of Waste from Extractive Industries to prepare an inventory of closed/abandoned waste facilities, which cause serious negative environmental impacts or have the potential of becoming in the medium or short term a serious threat to human health or the environment, and to periodically update it.

The inventory is to be made available to the public and is to be completed by 1 May 2012. This Historic Mines Sites Inventory and Risk Classification deals only with those minerals covered by the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999. A similar study on closed stone, sand and gravel quarries will have to be compiled before 1 May 2012.

Many terms have been used to refer to old mines - including abandoned, derelict or orphaned. There is no widely accepted single definition for classifying old mines that are dormant, may or may not have an identifiable owner and have not been reclaimed. A working definition is any inactive mine site not in the process of rehabilitation or under active management.

Some common characteristics of historic mine sites are -

* ownership of the site is often difficult to establish
* that regular maintenance of the site has not been undertaken - and
* mining ceased without proper rehabilitation.

In this report, the term 'historic mine site' is used to refer to old mine sites which are not regulated by a current permit under minerals development legislation and consists of the mine workings and infrastructure related to a mine, including - but not limited to - tailings facilities, waste rock dumps, buildings and concentrator facilities.

A comprehensive remediation project is currently underway at the Silvermines site and is being overseen by DCENR, while a full assessment of the Avoca site, where the State is the landowner, has recently been completed by DCENR.

This project has resulted in the production of comprehensive information on the location and relative risk to the environment and human and animal health posed by these sites.

The project was jointly managed and funded by the EPA and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) and was carried out by geologists of the GSI.

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