Life Cycle Assessment of Mine Tailings Management in Canada

Catherine Reid, Valerie Becaert, Michel Aubertin, Ralph K. Rosenbaum, Louise Deschenes

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The effective management of mine tailings involves the control of several environmental impacts and legal requirements. Six tailings site management and closure scenarios were developed for a copper zinc underground mine located in Quebec (Canada) and compared using life cycle assessment (LCA). Two options are considered for the mine operation: tailings can be sent to the tailings disposal area where they are submerged or they can be partly used for backfilling. For each of these two operation options, three alternatives are presented for mine closure: (a) submerged tailings, (b) partial desulphurization with a cover of desulphurized material and (c) a cover with capillary barrier effects (CCBE) made of natural soils followed by revegetation. The goals of the study were to draw the inventory of these management scenarios from the development to the post-closure phase, to assess and compare their environmental impacts and to determine the importance of the land-use impact category. The potential impacts for each scenario were evaluated using the IMPACT 2002+ LCIA method. The results of the performed LCA indicate that for mine development and operation, scenarios where tailings are partly used as backfill for underground stopes appear to lead to larger impacts in 11 of the 14 midpoint categories since the backfill plant operation consumes a greater amount of material and energy. For a site closure period of 2 years, the CCBE option creates the greatest impacts, since it requires much more effort than the other techniques. The results for the post-closure phase have been analysed separately since they have a larger uncertainty. They appear to modify the comparative assessment results. The various results presented in the paper show the importance of taking land-use impacts into account.
Keyword: Mine tailings management; Life cycle impact assessment; Acid mine drainage control; IMPACT 2002+; Land-use category
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Pages (from-to)471-479
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Life Cycle Assessment of Mine Tailings Management in Canada'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this