Tailings Dust Monitoring Investigation at Tennant Creek

Tennant Creek in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT) was once a major mining hub with a large amount of operational activity. Due to a large number of mines being abandoned in the Tennant Creek area, many of these ‘legacy mines’ have been subjected to the elements and show noticeable deterioration.

Legacy mines can also pose air quality problems, particularly from issues from multiple dust sources. In the case of Tennant Creek’s discontinued Peko Mine there has not been any complaints from residents however, the NT Department of Mines and Energy have concerns that dust from tailings 8km east of own leftover from operational mining days may be a source of dust problems in the township.

As these tailings are uncovered and subject to strong winds during the dry season, they are a likely source. The prevailing wind direction is also pointing directly towards the township.

The NT Department of Mines and Energy commissioned this monitoring study to assess if the dust plumes are reaching the town and if they are, what the potential health impacts are.

The Challenge

At the beginning of the project, Tennant Creek locals informed at our team that “Tennant Creek is a dusty place, but it used to be much worse”. A common local theory is that the source of the town’s dust comes from the naturally dry landscape that has a lack of ground cover. 

Pacific Environment’s challenge is to determine whether the dust lifted off the Peko mine tailings dams or is a major contributor to the local environment or if it comes from other sources.

The Solution

Pacific Environment has taken on this investigation and designed the monitoring network accordingly.

Strategically, a network of three monitoring stations were installed to measure the:

  • Dust in town
  • Downwind near the Peko tailings dams and at a background site

The instrument deployed are a combination of laboratory grade instrumentation, real-time continuous dust monitors, and traditional dust deposition gauges.