Impacts to Air and community
The reason people live out in rural Nevada is wide open spaces and no pollution of the big city.
The Thacker Pass Mine will be a major industrial site that could produce a mind boggling 5,800 tons of Sulfuric Acid a day in phase II. We need to ensure all impacts have been fully examined.
Photograph of the Montana Mountains above the Mine Site at Left
Understanding Air discharges
Sulfur will be burned which will create sulfur dioxide gas, most of this sulfur dioxide gas will be captured and converted to sulfur trioxide and ultimately sulfuric acid.
There will be scrubbers collecting the pollution but scrubbers generally are not 100% effective. Due to the fact hundreds of tons of sulfur will be burned every day if even 1% is released that will be a substantial amount.
When the Air Quality Permits come out we need to pay close attention to the maximum allowable discharges and the required monitoring of air discharges.
There will probably also be some release of sulfur dioxide (read about sulfur dioxide here)
Plant Accident consequences
This major industrial facility will store 13,000 tons of molten sulfur. Molten sulfur will be burned here. An uncontrolled fire in storage could release enormous quantities of toxic chemicals. According to the Plan of Operations, Chlorine gas, and Hydrogen Sulfide gas will be used in processing (these gasses are highly toxic and both have historically been used in chemical warfare).
A fire or any other major accident would pose significant risks to the Community
It appears the Tailings pile will be a chemical Dump
Enormous quantities of chemicals are going to be hauled into our community. It appears that the tailings pile will be a defacto dump for chemicals. It also appears that many of the chemicals dumped will have entirely originated outside of the mine site, (now in different chemical forms). It appears as though millions of tons of imported chemical compounds will be dumped over the life of the mine.
It also looks as though even usable compounds such as gypsum and epsom salts will be dumped rather than recycled into usable products, see the Plan of Operations.
"The unleached clay solids and the solids generated during acid leaching, primarily gypsum, will be removed by pressure filtration prior to being conveyed to the CTFS for disposal." POO page 47
"The magnesium sulfate salt generated, otherwise known as Epsom salt, will be centrifuged prior to being conveyed to the CTFS for disposal" POO page 47
CTFS stands for Clay Tailings Filter Stack (i.e the tailings pile)
Smell and Emissions from the Tailings Pile?
There will probably be Sulfuric Acid remaining in the tailings pile. While this can be somewhat neutralized with other chemicals, the degree it is neutralized is dependent upon the amount of chemicals used and the efficiency of mixing. Even if all Sulfuric Acid was to be converted into Sulfate, bacteria and chemicals in the soil can convert safer sulfur compounds into dangerous ones.
There is also conflict within the permit applications with some locations saying all Sulfuric Acid will be converted to Sulfate Salts. But the Water Pollution Control Permit on page 3-11 acknowledges the potential of continued leaching (theoretically controlled by the liner)
Concerns with Leaching Toxic Materials
Sulfides are some of the worst polluters, if large amounts of Sulfuric Acid remains in ore it continually leaches out metals and radioactive materials. These can then contaminate groundwater and water bodies. The bottom of the tailings pile will be lined. However, we need to ensure that the liner will last indefinitely and not be subject to puncture or overflow. Linings that are subject to failure could make contamination problems worse since they focus contaminates at the source of the leak rather than broadly dispersed.
Read about Sulfide contamination at a historic copper mine here. Copper mines have historically been known as some of the worst polluters since sulfides are often encountered during the mining process. Copper mines now are often able to recycle the sulfur found in the ore, to utilize in their processing. The Thacker Pass Lithium mine is instead proposing to import millions of tons of Sulfur over the life of the mine.
Concerns with Airborne Mine dust and Smell from Tailing's Pile
This area is subject to heavy winds and dust storms. If dust blows off of tailings pile, would that dust still contain acid? What would the impact of airborne Sulfate Salt dust be? And would that impact the health of surrounding communities? Read about the dangers Sulfuric Acid Here. If the mine has dust abatement procedures what happens if the mine goes broke?
Sulfur Compounds can be Unstable and Convert to other forms that Smell Bad or are Toxic.
Certain species of bacteria synthesize sulfur and readily convert safe sulfur compounds into compounds that stink or are toxic. Even the very stable gypsum (drywall) can be converted by bacteria into the foul smelling toxic hydrogen sulfide (read gypsum conversion to hydrogen sulfide in landfills here, Here is a separate power point discussing hydrogen sulfide produced at landfills in South Carolina. Another article discusses the sulfur conversion in groundwater read about sulfur converting bacteria in groundwater here. Will bacteria colonize the tailings pile and result in toxic or foul smelling gas?