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European mines pose a fluid problem


European scientists are formulating conclusions for mine-water management right now

Next to mine waste, water contamination by mines poses a problem to which far less attention is paid to. Today and tomorrow the group of European scientists of the ERMITE project are gathered at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). On this very moment, they formulate their guidelines for new European legislation and sustainable water management in mines. In November, the official meeting with the European Commission and the stakeholders is planned.

Environmental Regulation of Mine Waters in the European Union (ERMITE)

Events of the past decade have underlined the sensitivity of many aquatic ecosystems and water resource systems to pollution by mine waste and discharges from abandoned and active mines. A catastrophic failure of a tailings dam at Los Frailes (Spain) in April 1998 led to emplacement of more than 45hm3 of acid-generating silt threatening the Doñana nature reserves, one of the most environmentally valuable spaces in Europe. In January 2000, cyanide contaminated water from a gold mine caused havoc in the Danube. Similar problems will arise when the hard-coal mining areas in countries like Belgium, Germany and Poland cease pumping the abandoned mines.

In view of these events, the EU has initiated a process that will bring new European legislation to improve the environmental management of the extractive industries. So far this process has taken a mining waste perspective and not given sufficient attention to the water management implications.

ERMITE is a three-year research and development project which commenced on 1st February 2001. The project is funded by the European Commission Fifth Framework Programme under the Key Action Sustainable Management and Quality of Water (Contract No. EVK1-CT-2000-00078). The goal of this project is to provide integrated policy guidelines for developing European legislation and practice in relation to water management in the mining sector. ERMITE is trying to promote the importance of bringing together the integrated water management and mining engineering perspectives to complement the waste emphasis predominant so far in the EU. Mine water problems will require special attention in the implementation of the Water Framework Directive. ERMITE is a first step in that direction.

ERMITE addresses the multiple facets of this problem at two different levels. Firstly, integrating the variety of regional and national conditions in EU Member States and in countries involved in the enlargement process; secondly, bringing together disciplines such as environmental technology, water management, ecology, economics, institutional studies and European law and policy.

The ERMITE Consortium partners are: University of Oviedo (Spain, Co-ordinator), University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (UK), Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (Joint Research Centre, Seville), Netherlands Institute of Ecology, University of Exeter (UK), Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), Technical University and Mining Academy Freiberg (Germany), Institute for Mining, Geotechnology and Environment (Slovenia) and Hydro-Engineering Institute (BiH).

A key aspect of ERMITE has been the formation of stakeholder networks in each of the case study countries (Sweden, Germany, UK, Spain, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) and at European level (European Commission). A broad group of stakeholders have been informed of the progress of the project and invited to provide comments. Key stakeholders have attended three workshops to provide inputs to the research programme and examine the project findings. ERMITE has a direct interface with the European Commission through the participation of one of its units, the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (Joint Research Centre, Seville).

Froukje Rienks | alfa
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