Passive waste water treatment technologies based on ecological principles for organic pollutants are gaining gradual acceptance in many industrial sectors in the western world.
They represent a revival of the ancient stewardship of natural resources in response to the need for sustainable development. This revival has also lead to the use of wetlands for mine waste water with inorganic pollutants.
Constructed wetlands for metal-laden acid mine drainage (AMD), the major environmental issue in mining, are only part of the solution, as the metals in the waste water need to be mineralized in sediments.
The principles of ecological engineering need to be embraced if sustainable solutions are to be found. Neither the scientific community working in mine-site restoration nor the mineral sector itself has fully integrated ecological engineering principles into restoration efforts.
The many delaying factors are explored in this paper.A precise understanding of the underlying microbial dynamics of AMD generation is a prerequisite to any successful remediation strategy. The effectiveness of sediments in the open water sections of wetlands which bio-mineralize nutrients and organics, reduce metal acidity and increase pH has been widely demonstrated but the message doesn’t seem to be getting out.
In addition to gaining an understanding of the underlying processes, effective treatment systems need to be designed, constructed and monitored over a sufficient time period to assess the sustainability of the approach. A few mine waste management areas have been developed where ecological engineering principles are utilized and demonstrate that through supporting biogeochemical cycles, nature’s repair mechanisms are at work.