Mining operations can create a negative environmental impact, especially when considering the tailings that are produced through the processing of ores. Tailings are finely grained residues that form sludges. The tailings are deposited into giant basins, or sludge ponds, where they create a burden on the environment by limiting the use of processed water.
Tailings are one of the most important environmental liabilities for mining operations because of their large proportion in relation to the ore mined — generally 90 to 98 percent. To get to the valuable minerals, mining companies must move large amounts of rock. The rock is ground and then treated, usually with the addition of chemical solutions and large amounts of water. The lower the concentration of the valuable resources, the greater the proportion of accumulated excavated material sludge.