In 2010, local authorities in the town of Andacollo in central Chile near our Carmen de Andacollo (CdA) Operations cautioned that the level of dust particles in the town’s air posed a potential human health hazard. The particular concern was that the dust contained particles of heavy metals and mercury from tailings abandoned decades earlier in the town’s populated downtown core. The tailings are unrelated to Teck operations.
Studies conducted by the University of Chile on these tailings, unrelated to Teck operations, confirmed that they should be reclaimed to prevent harmful health effects to the community. In a hot and dry climate like central Chile, it is all too easy for the wind to spread dust particles from the abandoned tailings to surrounding neighbourhoods.
Especially because the majority of CdA employees call Andacollo home, we wanted to help with this important community health issue. We began to work with a local non-governmental organization to clean up the tailings. This was a challenging task, given the downtown location with many homes nearby. The workers we hired to conduct the cleanup were members of the Andacollo community.
Our first step was to purchase the land so that we could remove 257,000 tonnes of historical tailings from two sites and transport them to CdA for treatment and disposal into our own tailings facility. During the transportation process, we also made sure to wash local streets experiencing high truck traffic to mitigate any extra dust. We also used nebulizer cannons, which shoot a directed fog that helps prevent dust from billowing. Once on-site at CdA, we continued to be diligent about dust control, taking steps to keep the tailings material humid throughout the treatment and disposal process.
After the removal of the tailings, we began to reclaim the sites — nearly 10,000 square metres — that we anticipate will be used by the community in the years to come. We were proud to work with our employees and the residents of Andacollo to eliminate a potential health hazard and to recover a public space for use by the community.
This case study was originally published in our 2012 Sustainability Report.