Once a major polluter for surrounding environment, Dabaoshan Mine in Shaoguan, south China’s Guangdong Province, has now explored effective ways of green development, reviving its production and contributing to local ecology.
Dabaoshan Mine, located in remote mountains of Shaoguan, boasts rich resource of metals and a long history of mining. It was established in 1958 and embraced exponential growth after China kicked off the reform and opening-up. Dabaoshan’s flourishing led to large numbers of illegal mining and also a huge burden on environmental protection facilities. As a result, tremendous heavy metal slags and beneficiation wastewater were discharged downstream, causing severe damages to the habitats of aquatic lives and constant complaints from local villagers.
Chen Weisheng, head of the environmental protection division of the Dabaoshan Mine, told People’s Daily that the mine was once a treasure, but the long-term extensive operation later led to expanding losses, and the deteriorating environment was also placing increasingly larger pressure on it.
Chen, who has been working for the Dabaoshan Mine for some 20 years, said the days were dark a dozen years ago, and it seemed like the mine was “dead.”
After evaluation, the mine decided to stand out and take the responsibility, vowing to restore ecology even by loans. In 2013, it steadfastly started environmental protection after making a comprehensive strategy.
The mine has invested over one billion yuan ($141 million) to improve recycling facility and reduce waste discharge in the past years. Besides, it has introduced a large pollutant treatment device, so as to ensure that all sewage is recyclable.
The acid soil and goaf around the mine once posed a serious threat, as the barren hills crisscrossed with ravines and gullies were barely covered by any plantation.
“Greening the mountains was not easier than sewage treatment,” said Chen Jiancheng, Party chief of the Dabaoshan Mine. According to him, the mine invested a lot when it just began planting trees on the hills, but the results were not favorable. Later, they discovered that the problem was with the soil, so they resorted to soil treatment.
The mine invited experts and finalized a plan – to adjust micropopulations and control those generating acid substances without deforming the terrain and soil structure, so as to stop the migration of heavy metal elements in the soil and cultivate vegetation varieties that are self-sustained, non-degradable and match with each other.
By 2018, the mine had restored a land area of over 1.2 million square meters, planting around 1.1 million saplings. Xinshan, an area in the mine that saw the worst ecological damage, is now covered with green where 32 kinds of plants. At present, the surface water and pH value of the soil have recovered to initial level, and 95 percent of the land is covered by plants.
“By improving the soil quality, we cut heavy metal contamination and acidification from the source, thus reducing sewage pollution and containing geological hazards such as water and soil loss and debris flow,” said Shu Wensheng, professor with South China Normal University and head of the expert team helping solve environment issues for the mine.
Now, the water quality of Hengshi River at the foot of the hills has turned from the lowest grade to grade III, which means the water can be used for centralized drinking water supply. Sometimes, the water quality reaches grade II and even grade I.
Local villagers, once suffering from the poor water quality, were even forced to fetch water from afar, and they didn’t even let their ducks get into the water. “Now with the pure water, fish and shrimps come back again,” said He Fengming, Party chief of Shangba village near the Dabaoshan Mine.
What’s behind the changes is technological innovation. By introducing first-class techniques, the beneficiation workshop of the Dabaoshan Mine realized smart processing of grinding, floatation and recycling, said Zhong Guojian, chief engineer of the mine’s beneficiation department.
Besides, Dabaoshan Mine is also focusing on innovation, turning waste into useful resources. It is able to recycle all of the peracid tailing water, 78 percent to 83 percent of copper, and 80 percent to 85 percent of sulfur.
By adopting science-based mining, effectively utilizing resources, applying environmentally friendly techniques and restoring ecology around the mine, the Dabaoshan Mine has regained vitality through reforms and explored a path of circular economy with green development.
Hailed as a “green mine” in Guangdong, it is a national-level pilot program of environmentally friendly mine, and a national-level demonstration base for comprehensive utilization of mineral resources. The value of the mine reached 1.3 billion yuan last year.
A comparison of an abandoned mine before and after restoration at the Dabaoshan Mine. Photo by Yang Jinjin, People’s Daily Online