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No to rehab? The mining downturn risks making mine clean-ups even more of an afterthought

David Lamb writes in The Conversation (29.4.16) about the issue of mining companies cleaning up mine sites once they’ve been exhausted of resources. He finds that, despite miners being compelled to do so by legislated regulation, such as that recently introduced in Queensland’s Parliament, many sites are left in a condition requiring additional rehabilitation at the public’s expense.

‘Mining is environmentally damaging, but as a society we broadly accept this because of the financial benefits it provides, and because we assume ways can be found to fix the damage. Miners are now legally obliged to rehabilitate the area after mining is completed, but still some mine sites have had to be treated at the public’s expense.

‘Rectifying the damage caused by mining can be difficult. The new soils created are often infertile and can be easily eroded if the original landscape is not restored. Some sites may contain high levels of heavy metals, acids or salts, which make rehabilitation difficult.

‘These materials may be mobilised by rain and contaminate rivers if sites are not properly treated. In such situations, re-establishing plant cover of any kind and immobilising the hazardous materials is challenging.

‘Mine rehabilitation can also be expensive. Estimates of the cost of rehabilitating some mines exceeding A$500 million and taxpayers are sometimes at risk of being left with the bill.’

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