The release of heavy metal species from deposits of solid waste materials originating from minerals processing operations poses a serious environmental risk should such species migrate beyond the boundaries of the deposit into the surrounding environment. Legislation increasingly places the liability for wastes with the operators of the process that generates them. The costs for long-term monitoring and clean-up following a potential critical leakage have to be factored in the overall project plan from the outset. Thus assessment of the potential for a particular waste material to generate a harmful leachate is directly relevant for estimating the environmental risk associated with the planned disposal operation.
A rigorous mechanistic model is proposed, which allows prediction of the time-dependent generation of a leachate from a solid mineral waste deposit. Model parameters are obtained from a suitably designed laboratory waste assessment methodology on a relatively small sample of the prospective waste material. The parameters are not specific to the laboratory environment in which they were obtained but are valid also for full-scale heap modelling. In this way the model, combined with the assessment methodology, becomes a powerful tool for meaningful assessment of the risks associated with solid waste disposal strategies.