" DISCLAIMER: The ILO does not take responsibility for content presented on this web portal that is presented in any language other than English, which is the language used for the initial production and peer-review of original content."

Banner 13

 

Smelting and Refining Operations

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 20:28

Smelting and Refining

Written by

Adapted from the 3rd edition, Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety.

In the production and refining of metals, valuable components are separated from worthless material in a series of different physical and chemical reactions. The end-product is metal containing controlled amounts of impurities. Primary smelting and refining produces metals directly from ore concentrates, while secondary smelting and refining produces metals from scrap and process waste. Scrap includes bits and pieces of metal parts, bars, turnings, sheets and wire that are off-specification or worn-out but are capable of being recycled (see the article “Metal reclamation” in this chapter).

Overview of Processes

Two metal recovery technologies are generally used to produce refined metals, pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical. Pyrometallurgical processes use heat to separate desired metals from other materials. These processes use differences between oxidation potentials, melting points, vapour pressures, densities and/or miscibility of the ore components when melted. Hydrometallurgical technologies differ from pyrometallurgical processes in that the desired metals are separated from other materials using techniques that capitalize on differences between constituent solubilities and/or electrochemical properties while in aqueous solutions.

Pyrometallurgy

 During pyrometallic processing, an ore, after being beneficiated (concentrated by crushing, grinding, floating and drying), is sintered or roasted (calcined) with other materials such as baghouse dust and flux. The concentrate is then smelted, or melted, in a blast furnace in order to fuse the desired metals into an impure molten bullion. This bullion then undergoes a third pyrometallic process to refine the metal to the desired level of purity. Each time the ore or bullion is heated, waste materials are created. Dust from ventilation and process gases may be captured in a baghouse and are either disposed of or returned to the process, depending upon the residual metal content. Sulphur in the gas is also captured, and when concentrations are above 4% it can be turned into sulphuric acid. Depending upon the origin of the ore and its residual metals content, various metals such as gold and silver may also be produced as by-products.

Roasting is an important pyrometallurgical process. Sulphating roasting is used in the production of cobalt and zinc. Its purpose is to separate the metals so that they can be transformed into a water-soluble form for further hydrometallurgical processing.

The smelting of sulphidic ores produces a partially oxidized metal concentrate (matte). In smelting, the worthless material, usually iron, forms a slag with fluxing material and is converted into the oxide. The valuable metals acquire the metallic form at the converting stage, which takes place in converting furnaces. This method is used in copper and nickel production. Iron, ferrochromium, lead, magnesium and ferrous compounds are produced by reduction of the ore with charcoal and a flux (limestone), the smelting process usually taking place in an electric furnace. (See also the Iron and steel industry chapter.) Fused salt electrolysis, used in aluminium production, is another example of a pyrometallurgical process.

The high temperature required for the pyrometallurgical treatment of metals is obtained by burning fossil fuels or by using the exothermic reaction of the ore itself (e.g., in the flash smelting process). The flash smelting process is an example of an energy-saving pyrometallurgical process in which iron and sulphur of the ore concentrate are oxidized. The exothermic reaction coupled with a heat recovery system saves a lot of energy for smelting. The high sulphur recovery of the process is also beneficial for environmental protection. Most of the recently built copper and nickel smelters use this process.

Hydrometallurgy

Examples of hydrometallurgical processes are leaching, precipitation, electrolytic reduction, ion exchange, membrane separation and solvent extraction. The first stage of hydrometallurgical processes is the leaching of valuable metals from less valuable material, for example, with sulphuric acid. Leaching is often preceded by pre-treatment (e.g., sulphating roasting). The leaching process often requires high pressure, the addition of oxygen or high temperatures. Leaching may also be carried out with electricity. From the leaching solution the desired metal or its compound is recovered by precipitation or reduction using different methods. Reduction is carried out, for example, in cobalt and nickel production with gas.

Electrolysis of metals in aqueous solutions is also considered to be a hydrometallurgical process. In the process of electrolysis the metallic ion is reduced to the metal. The metal is in a weak acid solution from which it precipitates on cathodes under the influence of an electrical current. Most non-ferrous metals can also be refined by electrolysis.

Often metallurgical processes are a combination of pyro- and hydrometallurgical processes, depending on the ore concentrate to be treated and the type of metal to be refined. An example is nickel production.

Hazards and Their Prevention

Prevention of health risks and accidents in the metallurgical industry is primarily an educational and technical question. Medical examinations are secondary and have only a complementary role in the prevention of health risks. A harmonious exchange of information and collaboration between the planning, line, safety and occupational health departments within the company give the most efficient result in the prevention of health risks.

The best and least costly preventive measures are those taken at the planning stage of a new plant or process. In planning of new production facilities, the following aspects should be taken into account as a minimum:

  • The potential sources of air contaminants should be enclosed and isolated.
  • The design and placement of the process equipment should allow easy access for maintenance purposes.
  • Areas in which a sudden and unexpected hazard may occur should be monitored continuously. Adequate warning notices should be included. For example, areas in which arsine or hydrogen cyanide exposure might be possible should be under continuous monitoring.
  • Addition and handling of poisonous process chemicals should be planned so that manual handling can be avoided.
  • Personal occupational hygiene sampling devices should be used in order to evaluate the real exposure of the individual worker, whenever possible. Regular fixed monitoring of gases, dusts and noise gives an overview of exposure but has only a complementary role in the evaluation of exposure dose.
  • In space planning, the requirements of future changes or extensions of the process should be taken into account so that the occupational hygiene standards of the plant will not worsen.
  • There should be a continuous system of training and education for safety and health personnel, as well as for foremen and workers. New workers in particular should be thoroughly informed about potential health risks and how to prevent them in their own working environments. In addition, training should be done whenever a new process is introduced.
  • Work practices are important. For example, poor personal hygiene by eating and smoking in the worksite may considerably increase personal exposure.
  • The management should have a health and safety monitoring system which produces adequate data for technical and economic decision making.

 

The following are some of the specific hazards and precautions that are found in smelting and refining.

Injuries

The smelting and refining industry has a higher rate of injuries than most other industries. Sources of these injuries include: splattering and spills of molten metal and slag resulting in burns; gas explosions and explosions from contact of molten metal with water; collisions with moving locomotives, wagons, travelling cranes and other mobile equipment; falls of heavy objects; falls from a height (e.g., while accessing a crane cab); and slipping and tripping injuries from obstruction of floors and passageways.

Precautions include: adequate training, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., hard hats, safety shoes, work gloves and protective clothing); good storage, housekeeping and equipment maintenance; traffic rules for moving equipment (including defined routes and an effective signal and warning system); and a fall protection programme.

Heat

Heat stress illnesses such as heat stroke are a common hazard, primarily due to infrared radiation from furnaces and molten metal. This is especially a problem when strenuous work must be done in hot environments.

Prevention of heat illnesses can involve water screens or air curtains in front of furnaces, spot cooling, enclosed air-conditioned booths, heat-protective clothing and air-cooled suits, allowing sufficient time for acclimatization, work breaks in cool areas and an adequate supply of beverages for frequent drinking.

Chemical hazards

Exposure to a wide variety of hazardous dusts, fumes, gases and other chemicals can occur during smelting and refining operations. Crushing and grinding ore in particular can result in high exposures to silica and toxic metal dusts (e.g., containing lead, arsenic and cadmium). There can also be dust exposures during furnace maintenance operations. During smelting operations, metal fumes can be a major problem.

Dust and fume emissions can be controlled by enclosure, automation of processes, local and dilution exhaust ventilation, wetting down of materials, reduced handling of materials and other process changes. Where these are not adequate, respiratory protection would be needed.

Many smelting operations involve the production of large amounts of sulphur dioxide from sulphide ores and carbon monoxide from combustion processes. Dilution and local exhaust ventilation (LEV) are essential.

Sulphuric acid is produced as a by-product of smelting operations and is used in electrolytic refining and leaching of metals. Exposure can occur both to the liquid and to sulphuric acid mists. Skin and eye protection and LEV is needed.

The smelting and refining of some metals can have special hazards. Examples include nickel carbonyl in nickel refining, fluorides in aluminium smelting, arsenic in copper and lead smelting and refining, and mercury and cyanide exposures during gold refining. These processes require their own special precautions.

Other hazards

Glare and infrared radiation from furnaces and molten metal can cause eye damage including cataracts. Proper goggles and face shields should be worn. High levels of infrared radiation may also cause skin burns unless protective clothing is worn.

High noise levels from crushing and grinding ore, gas discharge blowers and high-power electric furnaces can cause hearing loss. If the source of the noise cannot be enclosed or isolated, then hearing protectors should be worn. A hearing conservation program including audiometric testing and training should be instituted.

Electrical hazards can occur during electrolytic processes. Precautions include proper electrical maintenance with lockout/tagout procedures; insulated gloves, clothing and tools; and ground fault circuit interrupters where needed.

Manual lifting and handling of materials can cause back and upper extremity injuries. Mechanical lifting aids and proper training in lifting methods can reduce this problem.

Pollution and Environmental Protection

Emissions of irritant and corrosive gases like sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and hydrogen chloride may contribute to air pollution and cause corrosion of metals and concrete within the plant and in the surrounding environment. The tolerance of vegetation to sulphur dioxide varies depending on the type of forest and soil. In general, evergreen trees tolerate lower concentrations of sulphur dioxide than deciduous ones. Particulate emissions may contain non-specific particulates, fluorides, lead, arsenic, cadmium and many other toxic metals. Wastewater effluent may contain a variety of toxic metals, sulphuric acid and other impurities. Solid wastes can be contaminated with arsenic, lead, iron sulphides, silica and other pollutants.

Smelter management should include evaluation and control of emissions from the plant. This is specialized work which should be carried out only by personnel thoroughly familiar with the chemical properties and toxicities of the materials discharged from the plant processes. The physical state of the material, the temperature at which it leaves the process, other materials in the gas stream and other factors must all be considered when planning measures to control air pollution. It is also desirable to maintain a weather station, to keep meteorological records and to be prepared to reduce output when weather conditions are unfavourable for dispersal of stack effluents. Field trips are necessary to observe the effect of air pollution on residential and farming areas.

Sulphur dioxide, one of the major contaminants, is recovered as sulphuric acid when present in sufficient quantity. Otherwise, to meet emission standards, sulphur dioxide and other hazardous gaseous wastes are controlled by scrubbing. Particulate emissions are commonly controlled by fabric filters and electrostatic precipitators.

Large amounts of water are used in flotation processes such as copper concentration. Most of this water is recycled back into the process. Tailings from the flotation process are pumped as slurry into sedimentation ponds. Water is recycled in the process. Metal-containing process water and rainwater are cleaned in water-treatment plants before discharging or recycling.

Solid-phase wastes include slags from smelting, blowdown slurries from sulphur dioxide conversion to sulphuric acid and sludges from surface impoundments (e.g., sedimentation ponds). Some slags can be reconcentrated and returned to smelters for reprocessing or recovery of other metals present. Many of these solid-phase wastes are hazardous wastes that must be stored according to environmental regulations.

 

Back

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 20:59

Copper, Lead and Zinc Smelting and Refining

Written by

Adapted from EPA 1995.

Copper

Copper is mined in both open pits and underground mines, depending upon the ore grade and the nature of the ore deposit. Copper ore typically contains less that 1% copper in the form of sulphide minerals. Once the ore is delivered above the ground, it is crushed and ground to a powdery fineness and then concentrated for further processing. In the concentration process, ground ore is slurried with water, chemical reagents are added and air is blown through the slurry. The air bubbles attach themselves to the copper minerals and are then skimmed off the top of the flotation cells. The concentrate contains between 20 and 30% copper. The tailings, or gangue minerals, from the ore fall to the bottom of the cells and are removed, dewatered by thickeners and transported as a slurry to a tailings pond for disposal. All water used in this operation, from dewatering thickeners and the tailings pond, is recovered and recycled back into the process.

Copper can be produced either pyrometallurgically or hydrometallurgically depending upon the ore-type used as a charge. The ore concentrates, which contain copper sulphide and iron sulphide minerals, are treated by pyrometallurgical processes to yield high purity copper products. Oxide ores, which contain copper oxide minerals that may occur in other parts of the mine, together with other oxidized waste materials, are treated by hydrometallurgical processes to yield high purity copper products.

Copper conversion from the ore to metal is accomplished by smelting. During smelting the concentrates are dried and fed into one of several different types of furnaces. There the sulphide minerals are partially oxidized and melted to yield a layer of matte, a mixed copper-iron sulphide and slag, an upper layer of waste.

The matte is further processed by converting. The slag is tapped from the furnace and stored or discarded in slag piles onsite. A small amount of slag is sold for railroad ballast and for sand blasting grit. A third product of the smelting process is sulphur dioxide, a gas which is collected, purified and made into sulphuric acid for sale or for use in hydrometallurgical leaching operations.

Following smelting, the copper matte is fed into a converter. During this process the copper matte is poured into a horizontal cylindrical vessel (approximately 10ґ4 m) fitted with a row of pipes. The pipes, known as tuyères, project into the cylinder and are used to introduce air into the converter. Lime and silica are added to the copper matte to react with the iron oxide produced in the process to form slag. Scrap copper may also be added to the converter. The furnace is rotated so that the tuyères are submerged, and air is blown into the molten matte causing the remainder of the iron sulphide to react with oxygen to form iron oxide and sulphur dioxide. Then the converter is rotated to pour off the iron silicate slag.

Once all of the iron is removed, the converter is rotated back and given a second blow of air during which the remainder of the sulphur is oxidized and removed from the copper sulphide. The converter is then rotated to pour off the molten copper, which at this point is called blister copper (so named because if allowed to solidify at this point, it will have a bumpy surface due to the presence of gaseous oxygen and sulphur). Sulphur dioxide from the converters is collected and fed into the gas purification system together with that from the smelting furnace and made into sulphuric acid. Due to its residual copper content, slag is recycled back to the smelting furnace.

Blister copper, containing a minimum of 98.5% copper, is refined to high purity copper in two steps. The first step is fire refining, in which the molten blister copper is poured into a cylindrical furnace, similar in appearance to a converter, where first air and then natural gas or propane are blown through the melt to remove the last of the sulphur and any residual oxygen from the copper. The molten copper is then poured into a casting wheel to form anodes pure enough for electrorefining.

In electrorefining, the copper anodes are loaded into electrolytic cells and interspaced with copper starting sheets, or cathodes, in a bath of copper sulphate solution. When a direct current is passed through the cell the copper is dissolved from the anode, transported through the electrolyte and re-deposited on the cathode starting sheets. When the cathodes have built-up to sufficient thickness they are removed from the electrolytic cell and a new set of starting sheets is put in their place. Solid impurities in the anodes fall to the bottom of the cell as a sludge where they are ultimately collected and processed for the recovery of precious metals such as gold and silver. This material is known as anode slime.

The cathodes removed from the electrolytic cell are the primary product of the copper producer and contain 99.99% copper. These may be sold to wire-rod mills as cathodes or processed further to a product called rod. In manufacturing rod, cathodes are melted in a shaft furnace and the molten copper is poured onto a casting wheel to form a bar suitable for rolling into a 3/8 inch diameter continuous rod. This rod product is shipped to wire mills where it is extruded into various sizes of copper wire.

In the hydrometallurgical process, the oxidized ores and waste materials are leached with sulphuric acid from the smelting process. Leaching is performed in situ, or in specially prepared piles by distributing acid across the top and allowing it to percolate down through the material where it is collected. The ground under the leach pads is lined with an acid-proof, impermeable plastic material to prevent leach liquor from contaminating groundwater. Once the copper-rich solutions are collected they can be processed by either of two processes—the cementation process or the solvent extraction/electrowinning process (SXEW). In the cementation process (which is rarely used today), the copper in the acidic solution is deposited on the surface of scrap iron in exchange for the iron. When sufficient copper has been cemented out, the copper-rich iron is put into the smelter together with the ore concentrates for copper recovery via the pyrometallurgical route.

In the SXEW process, the pregnant leach solution (PLS) is concentrated by solvent extraction, which extracts copper but not impurity metals (iron and other impurities). The copper-laden organic solution is then separated from the leachate in a settling tank. Sulphuric acid is added to the pregnant organic mixture, which strips the copper into an electrolytic solution. The leachate, containing the iron and other impurities, is returned to the leaching operation where its acid is used for further leaching. The copper-rich strip solution is passed into an electrolytic cell known as an electrowinning cell. An electrowinning cell differs from an electrorefining cell in that it uses a permanent, insoluble anode. The copper in solution is then plated onto a starting sheet cathode in much the same manner as it is on the cathode in an electrorefining cell. The copper-depleted electrolyte is returned to the solvent extraction process where it is used to strip more copper from the organic solution. The cathodes produced from the electrowinning process are then sold or made into rods in the same manner as those produced from the electrorefining process.

Electrowinning cells are used also for the preparation of starting sheets for both the electrorefining and electrowinning processes by plating the copper onto either stainless steel or titanium cathodes and then stripping off the plated copper.

Hazards and their prevention

The major hazards are exposure to ore dusts during ore processing and smelting, metal fumes (including copper, lead and arsenic) during smelting, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide during most smelting operations, noise from crushing and grinding operations and from furnaces, heat stress from the furnaces and sulphuric acid and electrical hazards during electrolytic processes.

Precautions include: LEV for dusts during transfer operations; local exhaust and dilution ventilation for sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide; a noise control and hearing protection programme; protective clothing and shields, rest breaks and fluids for heat stress; and LEV, PPE and electrical precautions for electrolytic processes. Respiratory protection is commonly worn to protect against dusts, fumes and sulphur dioxide.

Table 1 lists environmental pollutants for various steps in copper smelting and refining.

Table 1. Process materials inputs and pollution outputs for copper smelting and refining

Process

Material input

Air emissions

Process wastes

Other wastes

Copper concentration

Copper ore, water, chemical reagents, thickeners

 

Flotation wastewaters

Tailings containing waste minerals such as limestone and quartz

Copper leaching

Copper concentrate, sulphuric acid

 

Uncontrolled leachate

Heap leach waste

Copper smelting

Copper concentrate, siliceous flux

Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter containing arsenic, antimony, cadmium, lead, mercury and zinc

 

Acid plant blowdown slurry/sludge, slag containing iron sulphides, silica

Copper conversion

Copper matte, scrap copper, siliceous flux

Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter containing arsenic, antimony, cadmium, lead, mercury and zinc

 

Acid plant blowdown slurry/sludge, slag containing iron sulphides, silica

Electrolytic copper refining

Blister copper, sulphuric acid

   

Slimes containing impurities such as gold, silver, antimony, arsenic, bismuth, iron, lead, nickel, selenium, sulphur and zinc

 

Lead

The primary lead production process consists of four steps: sintering, smelting, drossing and pyrometallurgical refining. To begin, a feedstock comprising mainly of lead concentrate in the form of lead sulphide is fed into a sintering machine. Other raw materials may be added including iron, silica, limestone flux, coke, soda, ash, pyrite, zinc, caustic and particulates gathered from pollution control devices. In the sintering machine the lead feedstock is subjected to blasts of hot air which burn off the sulphur, creating sulphur dioxide. The lead oxide material existing after this process contains about 9% of its weight in carbon. The sinter is then fed along with coke, various recycled and cleanup materials, limestone and other fluxing agents into a blast furnace for reducing, where the carbon acts as a fuel and smelts or melts the lead material. The molten lead flows to the bottom of the furnace where four layers form: “speiss” (the lightest material, basically arsenic and antimony); “matte” (copper sulphide and other metal sulphides); blast furnace slag (primarily silicates); and lead bullion (98% lead, by weight). All layers are then drained off. The speiss and matte are sold to copper smelters for recovery of copper and precious metals. The blast furnace slag which contains zinc, iron, silica and lime is stored in piles and partially recycled. Sulphur oxide emissions are generated in blast furnaces from small quantities of residual lead sulphide and lead sulphates in the sinter feed.

Rough lead bullion from the blast furnace usually requires preliminary treatment in kettles before undergoing refining operations. During drossing, the bullion is agitated in a drossing kettle and cooled to just above its freezing point (370 to 425°C). A dross, which is composed of lead oxide, along with copper, antimony and other elements, floats to the top and solidifies above the molten lead.

The dross is removed and fed into a dross furnace for recovery of the non-lead useful metals. To enhance copper recovery, drossed lead bullion is treated by adding sulphur-bearing materials, zinc, and/or aluminium, lowering the copper content to approximately 0.01%.

During the fourth step, the lead bullion is refined using pyrometallurgical methods to remove any remaining non-lead saleable materials (e.g., gold, silver, bismuth, zinc, and metal oxides such as antimony, arsenic, tin and copper oxide). The lead is refined in a cast iron kettle by five stages. Antimony, tin and arsenic are removed first. Then zinc is added and gold and silver are removed in the zinc slag. Next, the lead is refined by vacuum removal (distillation) of zinc. Refining continues with the addition of calcium and magnesium. These two materials combine with bismuth to form an insoluble compound that is skimmed from the kettle. In the final step caustic soda and/or nitrates may be added to the lead to remove any remaining traces of metal impurities. The refined lead will have a purity of 99.90 to 99.99% and may be mixed with other metals to form alloys or it may be directly cast into shapes.

Hazards and their prevention

The major hazards are exposure to ore dusts during ore processing and smelting, metal fumes (including lead, arsenic and antimony) during smelting, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide during most smelting operations, noise from grinding and crushing operations and from furnaces, and heat stress from the furnaces.

Precautions include: LEV for dusts during transfer operations; local exhaust and dilution ventilation for sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide; a noise control and hearing protection programme; and protective clothing and shields, rest breaks and fluids for heat stress. Respiratory protection is commonly worn to protect against dusts, fumes and sulphur dioxide. Biological monitoring for lead is essential.

Table 2 lists environmental pollutants for various steps in lead smelting and refining.

Table 2. Process materials inputs and pollution outputs for lead smelting and refining

Process

Material input

Air emissions

Process wastes

Other wastes

Lead sintering

Lead ore, iron, silica, limestone flux, coke, soda, ash, pyrite, zinc, caustic, baghouse dust

Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter contain-ing cadmium and lead

   

Lead smelting

Lead sinter, coke

Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter contain-ing cadmium and lead

Plant washdown wastewater, slag granulation water

Slag containing impurities such as zinc, iron, silica and lime, surface impoundment solids

Lead drossing

Lead bullion, soda ash, sulphur, baghouse dust, coke

   

Slag containing such impurities as copper, surface impoundment solids

Lead refining

Lead drossing bullion

     

 

Zinc

Zinc concentrate is produced by separating the ore, which may contain as little as 2% zinc, from waste rock by crushing and flotation, a process normally performed at the mining site. The zinc concentrate is then reduced to zinc metal in one of two ways: either pyrometallurgically by distillation (retorting in a furnace) or hydrometallurgically by electrowinning. The latter accounts for approximately 80% of total zinc refining.

Four processing stages are generally used in hydrometallurgic zinc refining: calcining, leaching, purification and electrowinning. Calcining, or roasting, is a high-temperature process (700 to 1000 °C) that converts zinc sulphide concentrate to an impure zinc oxide called calcine. Roaster types include multiple-hearth, suspension or fluidized-bed. In general, calcining begins with the mixing of zinc-containing materials with coal. This mixture is then heated, or roasted, to vaporize the zinc oxide which is then moved out of the reaction chamber with the resulting gas stream. The gas stream is directed to the baghouse (filter) area where the zinc oxide is captured in baghouse dust.

All of the calcining processes generate sulphur dioxide, which is controlled and converted to sulphuric acid as a marketable process by-product.

Electrolytic processing of desulphurized calcine consists of three basic steps: leaching, purification and electrolysis. Leaching refers to the dissolving of the captured calcine in a solution of sulphuric acid to form a zinc sulphate solution. The calcine may be leached once or twice. In the double-leach method, the calcine is dissolved in a slightly acidic solution to remove the sulphates. The calcine is then leached a second time in a stronger solution which dissolves the zinc. This second leaching step is actually the beginning of the third step of purification because many of the iron impurities drop out of the solution as well as the zinc.

After leaching, the solution is purified in two or more stages by adding zinc dust. The solution is purified as the dust forces deleterious elements to precipitate so that they can be filtered out. Purification is usually conducted in large agitation tanks. The process takes place at temperatures ranging from 40 to 85°C and pressures ranging from atmospheric to 2.4 atmospheres. The elements recovered during purification include copper as a cake and cadmium as a metal. After purification the solution is ready for the final step, electrowinning.

Zinc electrowinning takes place in an electrolytic cell and involves running an electric current from a lead-silver alloy anode through the aqueous zinc solution. This process charges the suspended zinc and forces it to deposit onto an aluminium cathode which is immersed in the solution. Every 24 to 48 hours, each cell is shut down, the zinc-coated cathodes removed and rinsed, and the zinc mechanically stripped from the aluminium plates. The zinc concentrate is then melted and cast into ingots and is often as high as 99.995% pure.

Electrolytic zinc smelters contain as many as several hundred cells. A portion of the electrical energy is converted into heat, which increases the temperature of the electrolyte. Electrolytic cells operate at temperature ranges from 30 to 35°C at atmospheric pressure. During electrowinning a portion of the electrolyte passes through cooling towers to decrease its temperature and to evaporate the water it collects during the process.

Hazards and their prevention

The major hazards are exposure to ore dusts during ore processing and smelting, metal fumes (including zinc and lead) during refining and roasting, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide during most smelting operations, noise from crushing and grinding operations and from furnaces, heat stress from the furnaces and sulphuric acid and electrical hazards during electrolytic processes.

Precautions include: LEV for dusts during transfer operations; local exhaust and dilution ventilation for sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide; a noise control and hearing protection programme; protective clothing and shields, rest breaks and fluids for heat stress; and LEV, PPE, and electrical precautions for electrolytic processes. Respiratory protection is commonly worn to protect against dusts, fumes and sulphur dioxide.

Table 3 lists environmental pollutants for various steps in zinc smelting and refining.

Table 3. Process materials inputs and pollution outputs for zinc smelting and refining

Process

Material input

Air emissions

Process wastes

Other wastes

Zinc calcining

Zinc ore, coke

Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter containing zinc and lead

 

Acid plant blowdown slurry

Zinc leaching

Zinc calcine, sulphuric acid, limestone, spent electrolyte

 

Wastewaters containing sulphuric acid

 

Zinc purification

Zinc-acid solution, zinc dust

 

Wastewaters containing sulphuric acid, iron

Copper cake, cadmium

Zinc electrowinning

Zinc in a sulphuric acid/aqueous solution, lead-silver alloy anodes, aluminium cathodes, barium carbonate or strontium, colloidal additives

 

Dilute sulphuric acid

Electrolytic cell slimes/sludges

 

Back

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 21:05

Aluminium Smelting and Refining

Written by

Process Overview

Bauxite is extracted by open-pit mining. The richer ores are used as mined. The lower grade ores may be beneficiated by crushing and washing to remove clay and silica waste. The production of the metal comprises two basic steps:

  1. Refining. Production of alumina from bauxite by the Bayer process in which bauxite is digested at high temperature and pressure in a strong solution of caustic soda. The resulting hydrate is crystallized and calcined to the oxide in a kiln or fluid bed calciner.
  2. Reduction. Reduction of alumina to virgin aluminium metal employing the Hall-Heroult electrolytic process using carbon electrodes and cryolite flux.

 

Experimental development suggests that in the future aluminium may be reduced to the metal by direct reduction from the ore.

There are presently two major types of Hall-Heroult electrolytic cells in use. The so-called “pre-bake” process utilizes electrodes manufactured as noted below. In such smelters exposure to polycyclic hydrocarbons normally occurs in the electrode manufacturing facilities, especially during mixing mills and forming presses. Smelters utilizing the Soderberg-type cell do not require facilities for the manufacture of baked carbon anodes. Rather, the mixture of coke and pitch binder is put into hoppers whose lower ends are immersed in the molten cryolite-alumina bath mixture. As the mixture of pitch and coke is heated by the molten metal-cryolite bath within the cell, this mixture bakes into a hard graphitic mass in situ. Metal rods are inserted into the anodic mass as conductors for a direct current electric flow. These rods must be replaced periodically; in extracting these, considerable amounts of coal tar pitch volatiles are evolved into the cell room environment. To this exposure is added those pitch volatiles generated as the baking of the pitch-coke mass proceeds.

Within the last decade the industry has tended to either not replace or to modify existent Soderberg type reduction facilities as a consequence of the demonstrated carcinogenic hazard they present. In addition, with the increasing automation of reduction cell operations—particularly the changing of anodes, tasks are more commonly performed from enclosed mechanical cranes. Consequently worker exposures and the risk of developing those disorders associated with aluminium smelting are gradually decreasing in modern facilities. By contrast, in those economies wherein adequate capital investment is not readily available, the persistence of older, manually operated reduction processes will continue to present the risks of those occupational disorders (see below) previously associated with aluminium reduction plants. Indeed, this tendency will tend to become more aggravated in such older, unimproved operations, especially as they age.

Carbon electrode manufacture

The electrodes required by pre-bake electrolytic reduction to pure metal are normally made by a facility associated with this type of aluminium smelting plant. The anodes and cathodes are most frequently made from a mixture of ground petroleum-derived coke and pitch. Coke first is ground in ball mills, then conveyed and mixed mechanically with the pitch and finally cast into blocks in a moulding presses. These anode or cathode blocks are next heated in a gas-fired furnace for several days until they form hard graphitic masses with essentially all volatiles having been driven off. Finally they are attached to anode rods or saw-grooved to receive the cathode bars.

It should be noted that the pitch used to form such electrodes represents a distillate which is derived from coal or petroleum tar. In the conversion of this tar to pitch by heating, the final pitch product has boiled off essentially all of its low-boiling point inorganics, e.g., SO2, as well as aliphatic compounds and one- and two ring aromatic compounds. Thus, such pitch should not present the same hazards in its use as coal or petroleum tars since these classes of compounds ought not to be present. There are some indications that the carcinogenic potential of such pitch products may not be as great as the more complex mixture of tars and other volatiles associated with the incomplete combustion of coal.

Hazards and Their Prevention

The hazards and preventive measures for aluminium smelting and refining processes are basically the same as those found in smelting and refining in general; however, the individual processes present certain specific hazards.

Mining

Although sporadic references to “bauxite lung” occur in the literature, there is little convincing evidence that such an entity exists. However, the possibility of the presence of crystalline silica in bauxite ores should be considered.

Bayer process

The extensive use of caustic soda in the Bayer process presents frequent risks of chemical burns of the skin and eyes. Descaling of tanks by pneumatic hammers is responsible for severe noise exposure. The potential hazards associated with the inhalation of excessive doses of aluminium oxide produced in this process are discussed below.

All workers involved in the Bayer process should be well informed of the hazards associated with handling caustic soda. In all sites at risk, eyewash fountains and basins with running water and deluge showers should be provided, with notices explaining their use. PPE (e.g., goggles, gloves, aprons and boots) should be supplied. Showers and double locker accommodations (one locker for work clothing, the other for personal clothing) should be provided and all employees encouraged to wash thoroughly at the end of the shift. All workers handling molten metal should be supplied with visors, respirators, gauntlets, aprons, armlets and spats to protect them against burns, dust and fumes. Workers employed on the Gadeau low-temperature process should be supplied with special gloves and suits to protect them from hydrochloric acid fumes given off when the cells start up; wool has proved to have a good resistance to these fumes. Respirators with charcoal cartridges or alumina-impregnated masks give adequate protection against pitch and fluorine fumes; efficient dust masks are necessary for protection against carbon dust. Workers with more severe dust and fume exposure, particularly in Soderberg operations, should be provided with air-supplied respiratory protective equipment. As mechanized potroom work is remotely performed from enclosed cabins, these protective measures will become less necessary.

Electrolytic reduction

Electrolytic reduction exposes workers to the potential for skin burns and accidents due to molten metal splashes, heat stress disorders, noise, electrical hazards, cryolite and hydrofluoric acid fumes. Electrolytic reduction cells may emit large quantities of dusts of fluoride and alumina.

In carbon-electrode manufacturing shops, exhaust ventilation equipment with bag filters should be installed; enclosure of pitch and carbon grinding equipment further effectively minimizes exposures to heated pitches and carbon dusts. Regular checks on atmospheric dust concentrations should be made with a suitable sampling device. Periodic x-ray examinations should be carried out on workers exposed to dust, and these should be followed up by clinical examinations when necessary.

In order to reduce the risk of handling pitch, transport of this material should be mechanized as far as possible (e.g., heated road tankers can be used to transport liquid pitch to the works where it is pumped automatically into heated pitch tanks). Regular skin examinations to detect erythema, epitheliomata or dermatitis are also prudent, and extra protection can be provided by alginate-base barrier creams.

Workers doing hot work should be instructed prior to the onset of hot weather to increase fluid intake and heavily salt their food. They and their supervisors should also be trained to recognise incipient heat-induced disorders in themselves and their co-workers. All those working here should be trained to take the proper measure necessary to prevent the occurrence or progression of the heat disorders.

Workers exposed to high noise levels should be supplied with hearing protection equipment such as earplugs which allow the passage of low-frequency noise (to allow perception of orders) but reduce the transmission of intense, high-frequency noise. Moreover, workers should undergo regular audiometric examination to detect hearing loss. Finally, personnel should also be trained to give cardiopulmonary resuscitation to victims of electric shock accidents.

The potential for molten metal splashes and severe burns are widespread at many sites in reduction plants and associated operations. In addition to protective clothing (e.g., gauntlets, aprons, spats and face visors) the wearing of synthetic apparel should be prohibited, since the heat of molten metal causes such heated fibers to melt and adhere to the skin, further intensifying skin burns.

Individuals using cardiac pacemakers should be excluded from reduction operations because of the risk of magnetic field induced dysrhythmias.

Other Health Effects

The hazards to workers, the general population and the environment resulting from the emission of fluoride-containing gases, smokes and dusts due to the use of cryolite flux have been widely reported (see table 1). In children living in the vicinity of poorly controlled aluminium smelters, variable degrees of mottling of permanent teeth have been reported if exposure occurred during the developmental phase of permanent teeth growth. Among smelter workers prior to 1950, or where inadequate control of fluoride effluents continued, variable degrees of bony fluorosis have been seen. The first stage of this condition consists of a simple increase in bone density, particularly marked in the vertebral bodies and pelvis. As fluoride is further absorbed into bone, calcification of the ligaments of the pelvis is next seen. Finally, in the event of extreme and protracted exposure to fluoride, calcification of the paraspinal and other ligamentous structures as well as joints are noted. While this last stage has been seen in its severe form in cryolite processing plants, such advanced stages have rarely if ever been seen in aluminium smelter workers. Apparently the less severe x-ray changes in bony and ligamentous structures are not associated with alterations of the architectural or metabolic function of bone. By proper work practices and adequate ventilatory control, workers in such reduction operations can be readily prevented from developing any of the foregoing x-ray changes, despite 25 to 40 years of such work. Finally, mechanization of potroom operations should minimize if not totally eliminate any fluoride associated hazards.

Table 1. Process materials inputs and pollution outputs for aluminium smelting and refining

Process

Material input

Air emissions

Process wastes

Other wastes

Bauxite refining

Bauxite, sodium hydroxide

Particulates, caustic/water
vapour

 

Residue containing silicon, iron, titanium, calcium oxides and caustic

Alumina clarification and precipitation

Alumina slurry, starch, water

 

Wastewater containing starch, sand and caustic

 

Alumina calcination

Aluminium hydrate

Particulates and water vapour

   

Primary electrolytic
aluminium smelting

Alumina, carbon anodes, electrolytic cells, cryolite

Fluoride—both gaseous and particulates, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, C2F6 ,CF4 and perfluorinated carbons (PFC)

 

Spent potliners

 

Since the early 1980s an asthma-like condition has been definitively demonstrated among workers in aluminium reduction potrooms. This aberration, referred to as occupational asthma associated with aluminium smelting (OAAAS), is characterized by variable airflow resistance, bronchial hyperresponsiveness, or both, and is not precipitated by stimuli outside the workplace. Its clinical symptoms consist of wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness and non-productive cough which are usually delayed some several hours following work exposures. The latent period between commencement of work exposure and the onset of OAAAS is highly variable, ranging from 1 week to 10 years, depending upon the intensity and character of the exposure. The condition usually is ameliorated with removal from the workplace following vacations and so on, but will become more frequent and severe with continued work exposures.

While the occurrence of this condition has been correlated with potroom concentrations of fluoride, it is not clear that the aetiology of the disorder arises specifically from exposure to this chemical agent. Given the complex mixture of dusts and fumes (e.g., particulate and gaseous fluorides, sulphur dioxide, plus low concentrations of the oxides of vanadium, nickel and chromium) it is more likely that such fluorides measurements represent a surrogate for this complex mixture of fumes, gases and particulates found in potrooms.

It presently appears that this condition is one of an increasingly important group of occupational diseases: occupational asthma. The causal process which results in this disorder is determined with difficulty in an individual case. Signs and symptoms of OAAAS may result from: pre-existing allergy-based asthma, non-specific bronchial hyperresponsiveness, the reactive airway dysfunction syndrome (RADS), or true occupational asthma. Diagnosis of this condition is presently problematic, requiring a compatible history, the presence of variable airflow limitation, or in its absence, production of pharmacologically induced bronchial hyperresponsivity. But if the latter is not demonstrable, this diagnosis is unlikely. (However, this phenomenon can eventually disappear after the disorder subsides with removal from work exposures.)

Since this disorder tends to become progressively more severe with continued exposure, affected individuals most usually need be removed from continued work exposures. While individuals with pre-existent atopic asthma should initially be restricted from aluminium reduction cell rooms, the absence of atopy cannot predict whether this condition will occur subsequent to work exposures.

There are presently reports suggesting that aluminium may be associated with neurotoxicity among workers engaged in smelting and welding this metal. It has been clearly shown that aluminium is absorbed via the lungs and excreted in the urine at levels greater than normal, particularly in reduction cell room workers. However, much of the literature regarding neurological effects in such workers derives from the presumption that aluminium absorption results in human neurotoxicity. Accordingly, until such associations are more reproducibly demonstrable, the connection between aluminium and occupational neurotoxicity must be considered speculative at this time.

Because of the occasional need to expend in excess of 300 kcal/h in the course of changing anodes or performing other strenuous work in the presence of molten cryolite and aluminium, heat disorders may be seen during periods of hot weather. Such episodes are most likely to occur when the weather initially changes from the moderate to hot, humid conditions of summer. In addition, work practices which result in accelerated anode changing or employment over two successive work shifts during hot weather will also predispose workers to such heat disorders. Workers inadequately heat acclimatized or physically conditioned, whose salt intake is inadequate or who have intercurrent or recent illness are particularly prone to development of heat exhaustion and/or heat cramps while performing such arduous tasks. Heat stroke has occurred but rarely among aluminium smelter workers except among those with known predisposing health alterations (e.g., alcoholism, ageing).

Exposure to the polycyclic aromatics associated with breathing of pitch fume and particulates have been demonstrated to place Soderberg-type reduction cell personnel in particular at an excessive risk of developing urinary bladder cancer; the excess cancer risk is less well-established. Workers in carbon electrode plants where mixtures of heated coke and tar are heated are assumed to also be at such risk. However, after electrodes have been baked for several days at about 1,200 °C, polycyclic aromatic compounds are practically totally combusted or volatilized and are no longer associated with such anodes or cathodes. Hence the reduction cells utilizing prebaked electrodes have not been as clearly shown to present an undue risk of development of these malignant disorders. Other neoplasia (e.g., non-granulocytic leukaemia and brain cancers) have been suggested to occur in aluminium reduction operations; at present such evidence is fragmentary and inconsistent.

In the vicinity of the electrolytic cells, the use of pneumatic crust breakers in the potrooms produce noise levels of the order of 100 dBA. The electrolytic reduction cells are run in series from a low-voltage high-amperage current supply and, consequently, cases of electric shock are not usually severe. However, in the power house at the point where the high-voltage supply joins the series-connection network of the potroom, severe electrical shock accidents may occur particularly as the electrical supply is an alternating, high voltage current.

Because health concerns have been raised regarding exposures associated with electromagnetic power fields, the exposure of workers in this industry has been brought into question. It must be recognized that the power supplied to electrolytic reduction cells is direct current; accordingly, the electromagnetic fields generated in the potrooms are mainly of the static or standing field type. Such fields, in contrast to low frequency electromagnetic fields, are even less readily shown to exert consistent or reproducible biological effects, either experimentally or clinically. In addition, the flux levels of the magnetic fields measured in present day cell rooms are commonly found to be within presently proposed, tentative threshold limit values for static magnetic fields, sub-radio frequency and static electric fields. Exposure to ultra-low frequency electromagnetic fields also occur in reduction plants, especially at the far-ends of these rooms adjacent to rectifier rooms. However, the flux levels found in the nearby potrooms are minimal, well below present standards. Finally, coherent or reproducible epidemiological evidence of adverse health effects due to electromagnetic fields in aluminium reduction plants have not been convincingly demonstrated.

Electrode manufacture

Workers in contact with pitch fumes may develop erythema; exposure to sunlight induces photosensitization with increased irritation. Cases of localized skin tumours have occurred among carbon electrode workers where inadequate personal hygiene was practised; after excision and change of job no further spread or recurrence is usually noted. During electrode manufacture, considerable quantities of carbon and pitch dust can be generated. Where such dust exposures have been severe and inadequately controlled, there have been occasional reports that carbon electrode makers may develop simple pneumoconiosis with focal emphysema, complicated by the development of massive fibrotic lesions. Both the simple and complicated pneumoconioses are indistinguishable from the corresponding condition of coalworkers’ pneumoconiosis. The grinding of coke in ball mills produces noise levels of up to 100 dBA.

Editor’s note: The aluminium production industry has been classified as a Group 1 known cause of human cancers by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). A variety of exposures have been associated with other diseases (e.g., “potroom asthma”) which are described elsewhere in this Encyclopaedia.

 

Back

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 21:06

Gold Smelting and Refining

Written by

Adapted from the 3rd edition, Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety.

Gold mining is carried out on a small scale by individual prospectors (e.g., in China and Brazil) and on a large scale in underground mines (e.g., in South Africa) and in open pit mining (e.g., in the United States).

The simplest method of gold mining is panning, which involves filling a circular dish with gold-bearing sand or gravel, holding it under a stream of water and swirling it. The lighter sand and gravel are gradually washed off, leaving the gold particles near the centre of the pan. More advanced hydraulic gold mining consists of directing a powerful stream of water against the gold-bearing gravel or sand. This crumbles the material and washes it away through special sluices in which the gold settles, while the lighter gravel is floated off. For river mining, elevator dredges are used, consisting of flat-bottomed boats which use a chain of small buckets to scoop up material from the river bottom and empty it into a screening container (trommel). The material is rotated in the trommel as water is directed on it. The gold-bearing sand sinks through perforations in the trommel and drops onto shaking tables for further concentration.

There are two main methods for the extraction of gold from ore. These are the processes of amalgamation and cyanidation. The process of amalgamation is based on the ability of gold to alloy with metallic mercury to form amalgams of varying consistencies, from solid to liquid. The gold can be fairly easily removed from the amalgam by distilling off the mercury. In internal amalgamation, the gold is separated inside the crushing apparatus at the same time as the ore is crushed. The amalgam removed from the apparatus is washed free of any admixtures by water in special bowls. Then the remaining mercury is pressed out of the amalgam. In external amalgamation, the gold is separated outside the crushing apparatus, in amalgamators or sluices (an inclined table covered with copper sheets). Before the amalgam is removed, fresh mercury is added. The purified and washed amalgam is then pressed. In both processes the mercury is removed from the amalgam by distillation. The amalgamation process is rare today, except in small scale mining, because of environmental concerns.

Extraction of gold by means of cyanidation is based on the ability of gold to form a stable water-soluble double salt KAu(CN)2 when combined with potassium cyanide in association with oxygen. The pulp resulting from the crushing of gold ore consists of larger crystalline particles, known as sands, and smaller amorphous particles, known as silt. The sand, being heavier, is deposited at the bottom of the apparatus and allows solutions (including silt) to pass through. The gold extraction process consists of feeding finely ground ore into a leaching tub and filtering a solution of potassium or sodium cyanide through it. The silt is separated from the gold cyanide solutions by adding thickeners and by vacuum filtration. Heap leaching, in which the cyanide solution is poured over a levelled heap of coarsely crushed ore, is becoming more popular, especially with low grade ores and mine tailings. In both instances, the gold is recovered from the gold cyanide solution by adding aluminium or zinc dust. In a separate operation, concentrated acid is added in a digest reactor to dissolve the zinc or aluminium, leaving behind the solid gold.

Under the influence of carbonic acid, water and air, as well as the acids present in the ore, the cyanide solutions decompose and give off hydrogen cyanide gas. In order to prevent this, alkali is added (lime or caustic soda). Hydrogen cyanide is also produced when the acid is added to dissolve the aluminium or zinc.

Another cyanidation technique involves the use of activated charcoal to remove the gold. Thickeners are added to the gold cyanide solution before slurrying with activated charcoal in order to keep the charcoal in suspension. The gold-containing charcoal is removed by screening, and the gold extracted using concentrated alkaline cyanide in alcoholic solution. The gold is then recovered by electrolysis. The charcoal can be reactivated by roasting, and the cyanide can be recovered and reused.

Both amalgamation and cyanidation produce metal that contains a considerable quantity of impurities, the pure gold content rarely exceeding 900 per mil fineness, unless it is further electrolytically refined in order to produce a degree of fineness of up to 999.8 per mil and more.

Gold is also recovered as a by-product from the smelting of copper, lead and other metals (see the article “Copper, lead and zinc smelting and refining” in this chapter).

Hazards and Their Prevention

Gold ore occurring in great depths is extracted by underground mining. This necessitates measures to prevent the formation and spread of dust in mine workings. The separation of gold from arsenical ores gives rise to arsenic exposure of mine workers and to pollution of air and soil with arsenic-containing dust.

In the mercury extraction of gold, workers may be exposed to high airborne mercury concentrations when mercury is placed in or removed from the sluices, when the amalgam is purified or pressed and when the mercury is distilled off; mercury poisoning has been reported amongst amalgamation and distilling workers. The risk of mercury exposure in amalgamation has become a serious problem in several countries in the Far East and South America.

In amalgamation processes the mercury must be placed on the sluices and the amalgam removed in such a manner as to ensure that the mercury does not come in contact with the skin of the hands (by using shovels with long handles, protective clothing impervious to mercury and so on). The processing of the amalgam and the removal or pressing of mercury must also be as fully mechanized as possible, with no possibility of the hands being touched by mercury; the processing of amalgam and the distilling off of mercury must be carried out in separate isolated premises in which the walls, ceilings, floors, apparatus and work surfaces are covered with material which will not absorb mercury or its vapours; all surfaces must be regularly cleaned so as to remove all mercury deposits. All premises intended for operations involving the use of mercury must be equipped with general and local exhaust ventilation. These ventilation systems must be particularly efficient in premises where mercury is distilled off. Stocks of mercury must be kept in hermetically sealed metal containers under a special exhaust hood; workers must be provided with the PPE necessary for work with mercury; and the air must be monitored systematically in premises used for amalgamation and distilling. There should also be medical monitoring.

Contamination of the air by hydrogen cyanide in cyanidation plants is dependent on air temperature, ventilation, the volume of material being processed, the concentration of the cyanide solutions in use, the quality of the reagents and the number of open installations. Medical examination of workers in gold-extracting factories has revealed symptoms of chronic hydrogen cyanide poisoning, in addition to a high frequency of allergic dermatitis, eczema and pyoderma (an acute inflammatory skin disease with pus formation).

Proper organization of the preparation of cyanide solutions is particularly important. If the opening of drums containing cyanide salts and the feeding of these salts into dissolving tubs is not mechanized, there can be substantial contamination by cyanide dust and hydrogen cyanide gas. Cyanide solutions should be fed in through closed systems by automatic proportioning pumps. In gold cyanidation plants, the correct degree of alkalinity must be maintained in all cyanidation apparatus; in addition, cyanidation apparatus must be hermetically sealed and equipped with LEV backed up by adequate general ventilation and leak monitoring. All cyanidation apparatus and the walls, floors, open areas and stairs of the premises must be covered with non-porous materials and regularly cleaned with weak alkaline solutions.

The use of acids to break down zinc in the processing of gold slime may give off hydrogen cyanide and arsine. These operations must therefore be performed in specially equipped and separated premises, with the use of local exhaust hoods.

Smoking should be prohibited and workers should be provided with separate facilities for eating and drinking. First-aid equipment should be available and should contain material for immediately removing any cyanide solution that comes in contact with workers’ bodies and antidotes for cyanide poisoning. Workers must be supplied with personal protective clothing impervious to cyanide compounds.

Environmental Effects

There is evidence of exposure to metallic mercury vapour and methylation of mercury in nature, particularly where the gold is processed. In one study of water, settlements and fish from gold mining areas of Brazil, the mercury concentrations in edible parts of locally consumed fish surpassed by almost 6 times the Brazilian advisory level for human consumption (Palheta and Taylor 1995). In a contaminated area of Venezuela, gold prospectors have been using mercury to separate gold from auriferous sand and rock powders for many years. The high level of mercury in the surface soil and rubber sediments of the contaminated area constitutes a serious occupational and public health risk.

Cyanide contamination of wastewater is also a great concern. Cyanide solutions should be treated before being released or should be recovered and reused. Emissions of hydrogen cyanide gas, for example, in the digest reactor, are treated with a scrubber before being exhausted out the stack.

 

Back

Contents

Preface
Part I. The Body
Part II. Health Care
Part III. Management & Policy
Part IV. Tools and Approaches
Part V. Psychosocial and Organizational Factors
Part VI. General Hazards
Part VII. The Environment
Part VIII. Accidents and Safety Management
Part IX. Chemicals
Part X. Industries Based on Biological Resources
Part XI. Industries Based on Natural Resources
Part XII. Chemical Industries
Part XIII. Manufacturing Industries
Electrical Appliances and Equipment
Metal Processing and Metal Working Industry
Smelting and Refining Operations
Metal Processing and Metal Working
Resources
Microelectronics and Semiconductors
Glass, Pottery and Related Materials
Printing, Photography and Reproduction Industry
Woodworking
Part XIV. Textile and Apparel Industries
Part XV. Transport Industries
Part XVI. Construction
Part XVII. Services and Trade
Part XVIII. Guides

Metal Processing and Metal Working Industry Additional Resources

Click the Button below to view additional resources for this topic.

button

Metal Processing and Metal Working Industry References

Buonicore, AJ and WT Davis (eds.). 1992. Air Pollution Engineering Manual. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold/Air and Waste Management Association.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 1995. Profile of the Nonferrous Metals Industry. EPA/310-R-95-010. Washington, DC: EPA.

International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC). 1984. Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Vol. 34. Lyon: IARC.

Johnson A, CY Moira, L MacLean, E Atkins, A Dybunico, F Cheng, and D Enarson. 1985. Respiratory abnormalities amongst workers in iron and steel industry. Brit J Ind Med 42:94–100.

Kronenberg RS, JC Levin, RF Dodson, JGN Garcia, and DE Griffith. 1991. Asbestos-related disease in employees of a steel mill and a glass bottle manufacturing plant. Ann NY Acad Sci 643:397–403.

Landrigan, PJ, MG Cherniack, FA Lewis, LR Catlett, and RW Hornung. 1986. Silicosis in a grey iron foundry. The persistence of an ancient disease. Scand J Work Environ Health 12:32–39.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 1996. Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposures to Metalworking Fluids. Cincinatti, OH: NIOSH.

Palheta, D and A Taylor. 1995. Mercury in environmental and biological samples from a gold mining area in the Amazon Region of Brazil. Science of the Total Environment 168:63-69.

Thomas, PR and D Clarke. 1992 Vibration white finger and Dupuytren’s contracture: Are they related? Occup Med 42(3):155–158.