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Air and Water Quality Optimization Related to Open Pit Mining

Mark Koopman, Metallurgy, University of Utah
Author Profile

This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Summary

This is an activity idea rather than a fully fleshed out activity description. The author seeks input from participants at the 2013 Engineering, Sustainability, and the Geosciences workshop to develop this idea into a full activity.

I am adding a single lecture on the legislative framework for industrial air and water pollution control, which I intend to follow with a module on air and water pollution issues related to mining. Specifically, I have in mind to develop an activity potentially based on an analysis of the large open pit copper mine just southwest of Salt Lake City operated by Rio Tinto (often referred to as the Kennecott or Bingham Canyon mine). This mine is among the world's largest copper mines, providing valuable resources to the US economy, producing about 15% of US demand for copper, as well as significant gold, silver and molybdenum. The Rio Tinto mine is particularly relevant to the class, as it is very close to the Univ. of Utah and Salt Lake City, and is easily visible on most days from campus or downtown.

Learning Goals

As this module has not been fully fleshed out, there is room for incorporation of specific concepts, but at the moment I envision analysis of competing societal needs. Such an analysis would require data analysis (there is already a lecture on data quality in relation to environmental data) and certainly critical thinking. Sustainability in relation to mining is addressed in other sections of the course, where each student examines reserve and resource bases associated with a single element or compound, but in this module the additional implications of mass balance transfer during mining operations to air and water will be considered.

Context for Use

Classes are generally small in our department. There were 8 students in this class last term, but suspect enrollment may climb a bit. Most of the students were undergraduate, although the class is open to graduate students, and all the students were either majoring in metallurgy or materials science. There is the potential for non-engineering students to be enrolled in the future, as the course content does nor require a highly technical background and the class has recently been added to a new certificate of sustainability program at the U. of Utah.

Description and Teaching Materials

While a specific activity has not yet been identified, I am hoping that the workshop will assist me in identifying and developing an activity associated with the following learning objectives. The course I will be teaching for the second time this autumn is titled: "Materials and the Environment," and is currently focused primarily on the relationship between energy and both materials and products. Energy use is examined in each stage of a material or product's life cycle. I am adding a single lecture on the legislative framework for industrial air and water pollution control, which I intend to follow with a module on air and water pollution issues related to mining. Specifically, I have in mind to develop an activity potentially based on an analysis of the large open pit copper mine just southwest of Salt Lake City operated by Rio Tinto (often referred to as the Kennecott or Bingham Canyon mine). This mine is among the world's largest copper mines, providing valuable resources to the US economy, producing about 15% of US demand for copper, as well as significant gold, silver and molybdenum. The Rio Tinto mine is particularly relevant to the class, as it is very close to the Univ. of Utah and Salt Lake City, and is easily visible on most days from campus or downtown.

Salt Lake City has cause to be concerned on issues of air and water quality. The city is located in an arid region where water scarcity is an issue, and rests in a valley between two mountain ranges. To the west is the Oquirrh range where the mine is located, and to the east is the higher Wasatch range. The metropolitan area of Salt Lake City is prone to winter inversion layers that regularly drive the air quality index (AQI) into the region of unsafe for sensitive groups (orange, AQI of 100-150), and occasionally into the category of unhealthy (red, AQI of 151-200). While more than half of PM 2.5 can be attributed to automobile and truck traffic, some significant portion is attributed to industry within the valley.

I am attempting to develop a module, more than simply lecture material, for 2-3 class sessions that will supplement some introductory examination of water and air pollution issues. I am currently trying to interest one of the environmental engineers at Rio Tinto to provide a class tour of the facility, but would like to find an activity which will engage the students to develop an understanding of the competing societal needs. The opportunity to integrate geosciences into this module is evident, but several approaches are possible, and due to issues of scope it is probable that we may concentrate on either water or air. I am open to discussions in and outside of the structured workshop toward finding an appropriate subtopic around which more specific learning objectives can be oriented, and toward possible innovative methods or activities.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This material could be added next year, if desired.

Assessment

Yet to be determined

References and Resources

Yet to be determined, but probably including appropriate government web sites, lecture slides, and possibly journal article research

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