Guidance unveiled under Directive on mining and quarrying waste

Draft guidance on the best available techniques that mine and quarry operators will have to consider for the control of pollution and other risks from waste facilities has been published under the proposed EU Directive on mining and quarrying wastes.1

The guidance relates to the proposed EU Directive on mine and quarry waste, which had its first reading in the European Parliament in April (ENDS Report 351, p 52 ). The legislation comes in response to recent major mining accidents in Spain and Romania.

The proposed Directive applies to waste management at most mining and quarry activities. Its approach has parallels to the Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) in that it will place operators under a duty to use the best available techniques (BAT) to prevent or minimise impacts. Sites will require a permit for which they must submit a waste management plan demonstrating the use of BAT. After the proposed Directive comes into force, operators will have four years to comply.

A consultation by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister last year said that around half of the UK's 2,303 active mines and quarries have waste management facilities, and will therefore fall under the requirement to prepare a waste management plan. However, the ODPM believes that the proposed Directive will not bring significant environmental benefits to the UK, because sites are already regulated under the planning regime (ENDS Report 346, pp 45-47 ).

Nevertheless, the draft EU guidance specifies an exhaustive range of BAT that operators will have to demonstrate they have considered when applying for a permit. It was drawn up by the IPPC Bureau, the body which publishes BAT guidance called BREFs.

The draft BREF comments that management of waste-rock residues is often seen by operators as an "undesired financial burden". The guidance, which is the product of three years' work and runs to 560 pages, reviews impacts and pollution control practice in the sector. These include:

  • Emissions to water: Effluent is one of the main impacts from mining and quarry waste management facilities. For instance, acid rock drainage, associated with coal, lead and zinc when sulphide-bearing ores are exposed to air and water, causes acidification of water. Operators will have to consider techniques to control drainage, such as treatment facilities.

    Other emissions which must be controlled include suspended solids and metals. BAT includes using settlement ponds to remove particulate matter. Emissions can also be reduced and water consumption cut by water reuse and recycling techniques.

  • Dust and noise: The BREF says that mining and quarrying operations should be shielded using embankments to prevent noise. It recommends a variety of good practice techniques to abate dust emissions such as using water sprays and surfacing dusty areas.

  • Accident prevention: The BREF also includes guidance on how waste-rock heaps and dams should be constructed so as to minimise the risk of accidents and pollution. It advises that ingress of water into a heap is by far the most important hazard as this can cause it to become unstable. Particular attention should be paid to drainage, taking care to avoid emissions to groundwater.

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