Minerals Programme
Geology Matters No. 7  
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This edition features the work of the Minerals programme. The Programme is headed by Gerry Stanley (Senior Geologist) with administrative assistance from Dolores Duffy and Michael Kennedy (together they provide about one-half person as they also work in other programmes). Geological support is provided by contract geologists Dr. Vincent Gallagher, Mr. Phelim Lally and Ms Fionnuala Ni Mhairtin. In addition, Ms Claudia Loesch, a temporary graduate geologist, and Dr. Michael Philcox a consultant on a short term contract, provide support to the aggregate potential mapping project. The following pages describe some of the work of the programme.

Historic Mine Sites - Inventory and Risk Catogorization
Gerry Stanley

Glendasan, Co. Wicklow

An outstanding environmental issue relating to mining in Ireland is that of old mining sites or abandoned mine sites, which were not reclaimed when operations ceased and where past mining activities have lead to land degradation and environmental pollution. It was normal practice in the past that mining sites were closed with no or very little consideration given to the need to remediate these sites. As a result, these sites may continue to cause on-going damage to the environment and potential risks to human and animal health in the surrounding areas. There is also the potential that the risks posed by these sites may increase with time as large abandoned tailings dumps, rock dumps and underground workings gradually deteriorate and where no consideration was given to long-term maintenance and aftercare of closed mine sites.

Following a number of mine related incidents in Europe in the late 1990s and early 2000s the European Union adopted a Directive on the “management of waste from extractive industries” in 2004. Article 20 of the directive requires Member States to “…ensure that an inventory of closed waste facilities, including abandoned waste facilities, located on their territory which cause serious negative environmental impacts or have the potential of becoming in the medium or short term a serious threat to human health or the environment is drawn up and periodically updated.” The full text of the Directive may be accessed through the following link: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32006L0021:EN:NOT

In response to these drivers the Geological Survey of Ireland, the Environmental protection Agency and the Exploration and Mining Division have come together to compile an inventory of abandoned mine sites within the country. The project is being carried out within the Minerals Section of the GSI.

Iron furnace at Creevelea, Co. Leitrim

Starting in 2006 a team comprising Dr. Vincent Gallagher, Mr. Phelim Lally and Ms Fionnuala Ni Mairtin was assembled to carry out the work. The objectives of the project are:

• to draw up a list of priority sites for investigation based on existing information;
• to review existing sampling protocols and to select or develop as appropriate, a sampling protocol which will be used at each site to ensure reliability and replication at each site for a range of sampling media (e.g. soil, water, sediment, mine wastes, vegetation etc.);
• to carry out detailed site investigation and characterization on the priority sites identified, including an inventory of all extant surface and underground mine workings and associated buildings;
• to develop a risk categorisation methodology based on best international practice and to categorise the sites investigated; and
• to present the findings of the work and to compile all information and analytical results obtained for each site during this project into a GIS database.

The sites being investigated have been selected following an investigation based on the GSI's Mineral Localities database (MinLocs), literature review and expert knowledge of mining in Ireland. The selection resulted in:

  • The identification of some 27 'significant' sites which included both individual sites and districts. When the individual sites within the districts are counted this results in a total count of 80 individual sites which required evaluation.

  • The sites are widely distributed across Ireland from Donegal to Cork and at all points in between (see map).
  • The operations at these sites ranged in age from Bronze Age workings; 18th and 19th Century workings; Modern operations (mostly 2nd half of 20th Century).
  • The operations included metal operations (e.g. lead, copper, zinc); industrial minerals (e.g., barite, slate, talc); and coal.

    • The selection does not include operating mines.

Allihies, Co. Cork 

To date the work completed includes data compilation from mine records in a GIS environment; validation on the ground of this compilation; collection of geochemical data from various media (water, waste tips, tailings and soils); assessment of the stability of various structures associated with the past mining activity. When all the results have been received the data will be used to risk rank the sites. This work with the final report will be available in the first half of 2008.

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