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Mine Wastewater Solutions: Next Generation Biological Treatment through Functional Genomics

Status: 
Active
Competition: 
2015 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition - Natural Resources and the Environment: Sector Challenges - Genomic Solutions
Sector: 
Mining
Environment
Genome Centre(s):
Ontario Genomics
Project Leader(s):
Lesley A. Warren (University of Toronto), Jill Banfield (UC Berkeley)
Fiscal Year Project Launched: 
2016-2017
Project Description: 

The Canadian mining sector is a cross-country presence, with mines in every province and territory contributing more than $57 billion to the economy (3 per cent of Canada’s GDP) and employing over 375,000 people. As pressures on Canada’s freshwater water supplies grow, the sector as a whole, is seeking to develop the most sustainable approaches to mining possible.  Mining wastewaters contain sulphur compounds, which can cause acidification and toxicity in receiving waters if not properly managed. Currently the industry lacks effective monitoring tools and innovative biological solutions to better controls these contaminants.

Dr. Lesley A. Warren of the University of Toronto, along with Dr. Jillian Banfield of University of California, Berkeley, is leading a project that will apply genomics,  geochemistry and modeling to mining wastewaters to develop innovative biological monitoring, management and treatment tools.  The integration of genomics will provide understanding of bacterial opportunities in these wastewaters for new flexible management and treatment options to safeguard the quality of wastewater. These new tools will enable the industry to better monitor, manage and reduce sulphur compounds in their wastewaters. Her international team will also generate new tools, to support science-informed, cost-benefit decision-making for the mining sector. This project is the first of its kind in Canada and possibly the world.

The involvement of three mining and two environmental consulting companies, provincial and national sector industry associations and government will ensure the project’s findings are applied, leading to lower management costs, decreased risk of environmental damage, reduced liabilities for the industry and better safeguards for Canada’s vital freshwater supplies.

The project's GE3LS research component will develop a risk and options assessment for decision-making (ROAD). This process will enable translation of the team's scientific knowledge into a nested set of decisions, to guide mining operational practices, corporate strategic planning and policy development.