file under: Environment, Europe, Germany, Government

Uniting to Clean a Tarnished Legacy

Reversing Copper Mining Contamination in Avoca, Ireland

Industrial-scale copper mining began at Avoca in 1720 and continued intermittently until the mines were closed in 1982. Over more than two and a half centuries, an estimated 12 million tons of ore had been extracted. Mining had brought prosperity to the area, but closure left a significantly negative legacy, including buildings, open pits, tailing impoundments, waste heaps, mine discharges, and contaminated streams and sediments. Pollution of the Avoca River, which flows through the Vale of Avoca and separates the East and West Avoca mines, has been the most prominent detriment of this legacy. Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency, in successive national water quality reports, has classified the Avoca River as among the most polluted waters in Ireland.

The Avoca copper mines were closed after 2.5 centuries of operation, leaving significant site and water pollution. Our integrated efforts helped coordinate remediation, engage area stakeholders and study the effects on this unique location in Ireland. 

Building on past work, we prepared a realistic, cost-effective and achievable integrated management plan/feasibility study for the €60 million remediation of the Avoca site. The project involved the engagement of area stakeholders and the alignment of sectoral interests that have developed over the years in the development of a coordinated approach to remediating the damage left by mining at Avoca. This project provided an unparalleled opportunity to achieve this engagement and agreement from local stakeholders, who include not only state and regional bodies, but also the local community of Avoca.

In many ways, the Avoca mining area is unique and presents uncommon problems and challenges. Considerable data and a significant body of study have been accumulated over the years that examined the diverse aspects of the area. Thus, it was timely and necessary that this study was undertaken to allow the disparate strands of past work to be assessed objectively, augmented with additional data where necessary, and assessed with modern thinking in mine rehabilitation.

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Department of Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources