Environmental legacy of 19th century lead mining and mineral processing at the Newtownards Lead Mines

N.R. Moles, Mark Kelly, Dermot Smyth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ireland's largest 19 th century mining site, the Newtownards Lead Mines at Conlig and Whitespots, County Down, may present significant human and animal health and environmental risks such as exhibited by other abandoned mine sites of similar size. We present information on the distribution of lead enrichment in tailings, spoil, soil and vegetation in the mine sett and adjacent areas, and make outline recommendations for improving site management. The risks are partially mitigated by the absence of smelting on site, the enclosed topography of the ore processing area, and the abundance of carbonate gangue resulting in neutralisation of acid generated during oxidation of the spoil and tailings. Tailings and associated soils in the southern part of the main sett contain remarkably high concentrations of lead. The tailings material has been dispersed by erosion enhanced by motorbike scrambling and similar recreational activities. The site is a Country Park and a designated Area of Special Scientific Interst for its unusual mineralogical and botanical features, but without active management, continued deterioration will compromise its scientific and mining heritage value. The surviving mine buildings should be actively conserved and measures taken to preserve landscape features associated with former ore processing. We recommend that responsible parties should implement a site specific hazard-risk management plan, sympathetic to the site's ASSI designation and use as a Country Park, particularly to alleviate the primary hazard, namely the lead-rich tailings impoundments and adjacent downslope area into which tailings material has been redistributed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-53
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2016


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