Conference tackles Welsh metal mine pollution

A major environmental conference will today (16 March, 2015) hear how Wales is leading the way in tackling a serious source of pollution – left behind from a legacy of metal mining.

Experts from Natural Resources Wales (NRW), along with partners, are hosting the conference which will promote the hard work which has taken place to drastically reduce the impact of metal mine pollution and rejuvenate local environments. 

It comes as the organisation prepares to bid for funding from the Welsh European Funding Office to become a Centre of Excellence on metal mines. 

As part of the conference, delegates from all over the world will visit NRW’s flagship project at Frongoch Mine, in Ceredigion, to see the latest phase of work underway. 

Engineers are currently working on site at Frongoch to reduce the metal pollution affecting nearby rivers and streams by capping mining waste and creating a series of cascading ponds within a wetland. 

This will also improve habitats for rare mosses and other plants and encourage the site to regenerate naturally, making it a better place for wildlife and improving the landscape for local people and visitors to the area. 

The Frongoch project is being partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund, provided through the Welsh Government, and is being delivered with technical support from the Coal Authority. 

Paul Edwards, Senior Environmental Monitoring Officer from Natural Resources Wales said: 

“There are around 1,300 metal mines in Wales, and unfortunately over the years these have caused pollution to over 100km of rivers and streams.  It’s been an important part of our heritage, but in many places it has left a distinct mark on our environment. 

“In Wales, we really are leading the way in tackling this problem. The work we’ve done to date at Frongoch has significantly reduced the amount of pollution from the mine, preventing over 30 tonnes of toxic metals from entering streams and affecting the River Ystwyth. 

“And our innovative pilot project at Cwm Rheidol Mine, also in Ceredigion, has demonstrated that up to 99% of harmful metals can be stripped out of mine water discharge before it enters our rivers. 

“The benefits we’ve seen from the work we’ve done already have been very encouraging, and by setting up a Centre of Excellence we hope we can continue to keep up this good work, and share our experiences with other countries.” 

The project at Frongoch aims to reverse more than 100 years of contamination stretching back to the 1800s, when Frongoch Mine was one of the most productive lead and zinc mines in Wales, employing hundreds of people from as far afield as Italy.

Work to clean up the legacy got underway in March 2011, when NRW diverted the Frongoch Stream to stop it entering the mine workings, where it became contaminated with metals. 

This was followed by further work in 2013 to reduce the amount of surface water that comes into contact with the contaminated mining waste. 

The current phase of the project is due to be completed by June 2015.  

NRW is working with partners at the Universities of Bangor, Aberystwyth, Swansea and Cardiff plus The Coal Authority to develop the Centre of Excellence.

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