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Mining Waste

20 Mineral Processing Wastes Covered by the Mining Waste Exclusion

This web page provides an outline of the legislative and regulatory history, and current status of the mining waste exemption. Links to key regulatory and technical documents are also provided.


Mining wastes include waste generated during the extraction, beneficiation, and processing of minerals. Most extraction and beneficiation wastes from hardrock mining (the mining of metallic ores and phosphate rock) and 20 specific mineral processing wastes (see side bar below) are categorized by EPA as "special wastes" and have been exempted by the Mining Waste Exclusion from federal hazardous waste regulations under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Photo: mining operation

Extraction is the first phase of hardrock mining which consists of the initial removal of ore from the earth. Beneficiation follows and is the initial attempt at liberating and concentrating the valuable mineral from the extracted ore. After the beneficiation step, the remaining material is often physically and chemically similar to the material (ore or mineral) that entered the operation, except that particle size has been reduced. Beneficiation operations include crushing; grinding; washing; dissolution; crystallization; filtration; sorting; sizing; drying; sintering; pelletizing; briquetting; calcining; roasting in preparation for leaching; gravity concentration; magnetic separation; electrostatic separation; flotation; ion exchange; solvent extraction; electrowinning; precipitation; amalgamation; and heap, dump, vat, tank, and in situ leaching. The extraction and beneficiation of minerals generates large quantities of waste.

Mineral processing operations generally follow beneficiation and include techniques that often change the chemical composition the physical structure of the ore or mineral. Examples of mineral processing techniques include smelting, electrolytic refining, and acid attack or digestion. Mineral processing waste streams typically bear little or no resemblance to the materials that entered the operation, producing product and waste streams that are not earthen in character. For more information on the management of mineral processing wastes, visit EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Mineral Processing Wastes Web page.

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Legislative and Regulatory Timeline

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Public Docket for Mining Waste Exemption

Dockets contain all publicly available materials used in the development of regulations, such as Federal Register notices and rules, supporting analyses, technical background documents, and comments submitted by the public on Agency reports and rulemakings. EPA dockets are available electronically at Regulations.gov.

To use Regulations.gov:

  1. Select Docket Search.
  2. Select "Environmental Protection Agency" from the Agency drop-down menu.
  3. In the Keyword Box, type "mining waste" and then click the "Submit" button to receive your search results. Be patient; loading the documents can take several minutes.
  4. The docket should appear with the docket ID number (e.g., EPA-HQ-RCRA-1985-0045).

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Supporting Technical Documents

December 1985
December 1985 Report to Congress - Wastes from the Extraction and Beneficiation of Metallic Ores, Phosphate Rock, Asbestos, Overburden from Uranium Mining, and Oil Shale
October 1991
May 1998

May 1998 Land Disposal Restrictions Phase IV

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