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Environmental impact of mining waste disposal on a tropical lowland river system: a case study on the Ok Tedi Mine, Papua New Guinea

Abstract

The 1000 km long Ok Tedi/Fly River system receives about 66 Mt/year of mining waste from the Ok Tedi copper-gold porphyry mine. Mine input has increased the suspended sediment load of the Middle Fly River about 5–10 times over the natural background. A significant yet unknown amount of copper-rich material deposits unevenly in the extensive tropical lowland floodplain. Recent alluvial sediments of the Fly River floodplain have copper contents of 620 mg/kg (±1σ: 430–900), whereas the regional background is 40 mg/kg (±σ: 25–60). This pattern is mirrored and enhanced by the gold dispersal pattern with a 7 ppb Au background versus a 140–275 ppb population in mine-derived material. Very high deposition rates (around 4 cm/y) of mine-derived sediment were determined in locations close to the creeks and channels which link the Fly River with the outer floodplain. A thin layer of 1–5 cm of copper-rich material (400–900 mg/kg Cu) was usually found on the bottom of drowned (tributary) valley lakes. Average dissolved copper content in waters of the inner floodplain is around 9 μg/l (±1σ: 5–14) as compared to unpolluted water from the outer floodplain with < 2 μg/l Cu. The present Fly River water, about 600 km downstream of the mine site, has concentrations of 17 ± 3 μg/l dissolved Cu.

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Received: 30 June 1996 / Accepted: 9 January 1997

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Hettler, J., Irion, G. & Lehmann, B. Environmental impact of mining waste disposal on a tropical lowland river system: a case study on the Ok Tedi Mine, Papua New Guinea. Mineral. Deposita 32, 280–291 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/s001260050093

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Keywords

  • Sediment Load
  • Copper Content
  • Mining Waste
  • High Deposition Rate
  • Suspended Sediment Load