Establishing collaboration with Inst. of Geochemistry (CAS) Guiyang, China: analytical techniques, environmental geochemistry, ore characterization

Lead Research Organisation: The Natural History Museum
Department Name: Earth Sciences

Abstract

The rapid industrial growth in China results in a sharp increase in demand for metals such as copper and gold, which is expected to grow even faster. The geological features of SW China indicate the presence of minerals containing these elements and therefore it is expected that in the coming years many new mines will be developed. The rocks and minerals, which contain copper and gold contain also substances that are harmful to the environment and to man. These substances such as lead, cadmium mercury and arsenic are released to the environment during the mining and processing of the metal containing rocks and minerals for example during milling and smelting. The substances are transported through the atmosphere or water-courses and reach great distances from the sites of their release. The contamination of air, soil, water bodies and underground water resources persists even after the mines have closed. The successful exploitation of earth resources over a long time whilst maintaining the harmful effect to low levels is called sustainable development and is the general aim of this project.. A great effort has been invested in reducing the release of the harmful substances from mines into the environment. We propose a different way. Metals such as copper and gold occur in nature in various minerals, which are formed under different conditions. Hence the respective ores differ in their physical and chemical characteristics, including the distribution of the harmful substances / which in some cases may be the elements of interest. This project aims to determine and use the geological characteristics of SW China to identify the location of potential Cu and Au ores having a low content of substances harmful to the environment. In order to ensure the health of the environment and the human population it is necessary to monitor and assess the levels of harmful substances in the environment. The methods of monitoring need to be appropriate to the geographical conditions, and research is needed to adapt the methods of obtaining representative samples and analyse them. Well-equipped laboratories are needed to analyse samples to determine the content of the harmful substances, which may occur at very low concentrations. The Institute of Geochemistry of the Chinese Academy of Science in Guiyang has been investigating the composition of rocks and minerals from which metals such as copper and gold are extracted and also in samples of environmental materials such as air water soil plants lake sediments, and has modern analytical laboratories and very capable staff. The team of the Natural History Museum London and Imperial College have conducted similar studies in other parts of the world and have vast experience in the geology of ore deposits, monitoring and laboratory analytical techniques. Contact between members of the teams started through visits to China and the leader of the Chinese team studying at Imperial College for his PhD. Joining up the knowledge and expertise of the two teams would help addressing a problem that is important now to the population of SE Asia but is of general importance world wide. The local population would benefit by safeguarding the environment and their health. Mining companies working in SE Asia, several of them British, would benefit from the research by better selection of areas of mining and reduction of costs of environmental protection. The British manufacturers of monitoring and analytical equipment would benefit as more of this equipment would be purchased. The two teams would benefit from working together and improving their skills and knowledge in a field of science, which becomes more and more important with the increase in population throughout the world. A visit to the laboratories and the potential areas of investigation is necessary to set up the joint research.

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