November 2007

New environmental course at UBC for mining engineering

By F. Solomon

The Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC) has recently expanded its environmental curriculum to include a course entitled “Impacts of Metals on Aquatic Ecosystems and Human Health.” Fran Solomon, an environmental biologist with over 25 years of experience in environmental and natural resource agencies and university laboratories, developed and taught the course to mining engineering graduate students and fourth-year undergraduates during the 2007 spring term and is teaching the course again this term. She taught a three-day version of the course to mining industry professionals and mining engineering graduate students through the UBC Mining Studies Summer Institute in June. This short course is offered again at UBC Robson Square this November.

The purpose of the course is to encourage environmentally sensitive mining practice by educating current and future mining engineers and environmental professionals about the impacts of metals on fish, on other aquatic species, and on human health. A related objective is to promote collaboration between engineers and scientists with respect to prospecting, design, development, operation, and closure of mines to reduce discharge of metals to the aquatic environment. The Keevil Mining Institute regards this issue as an important part of the curriculum. The new course complements existing environmental courses that include “Mining and Society” and “Mining and the Environment.”

The course is an overview of metals and related “semi-metals” (aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, gold, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, tin, uranium, and zinc) that are mined or emitted as by-products of mining. Specific topics are as follows:

  • Aquatic ecosystems and how mining activities discharge metals and acid rock drainage (ARD) into these ecosystems.
  • Principles of metal toxicity, exposure pathways, and factors that affect metal toxicity.
  • Acute and chronic effects of each contaminant on aquatic organisms and human health.
  • Toxicity testing methods.
  • Source control and remediation of metal contamination and ARD at a mine site.
  • Case studies.
  • Mining, fish, and First Nations issues.

The term-length course also includes a field trip to the former Britannia Beach Mine site and a “conference” at the University of British Columbia in which graduate students will present papers that they have written on topics relevant to the course.

Fran Solomon is an adjunct professor at UBC.

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