Boliden Iron Sand
Skellefteå municipality has introduced restrictions on the use of Boliden Iron sand. Iron sand is a by-product of the Rönnskär copper smelter and has been used as a construction material in the Skellefteå area since the mid-1970s.
Skellefteå municipality’s Construction & Environment Committee has decided to classify iron sand as waste rather than, as previously, as a by-product. The classification as waste means that the iron sand is being judged by its composition, rather than its properties, and the Committee has consequently introduced restrictions on its use. The municipality also introduced guidelines for any previously used iron sand excavated. These were lifted after Boliden’s appeal to the Land & Environment Court in January 2017. Boliden objects to the municipality’s classification of iron sand as waste and the restrictions imposed.
Boliden regards maintenance of the circular economy – of which metal recycling is an important cornerstone – as vital. We should be able to use a by-product such as iron sand – a tried and trusted material with useful properties – rather than having to break virgin ground to obtain material from quarries.
Iron sand is a by-product of the smelter’s processes and its properties make it an excellent medium for ground insulation and drainage in conjunction with landscaping and road construction. Iron sand has been used in the Skellefteå area as a construction material since the mid-1970s. Studies show that the iron sand is chemically stable and there are no reported indications of negative environmental effects associated with the use of iron sand.
Iron Sand Q&A
What is iron sand?
Iron sand is a by-product of copper production operations at the Rönnskär smelter. The iron sand primarily contains silica (SiO2) and iron, which have been combined to form a chemically stable, glass-like compound. The iron comes from the copper mineral and the silica is bought in the form of sand used to form slag during the smelter’s processes. The iron sand also contains small amounts of copper (0.5%) and zinc (1.2%). Other elements (primarily metals) present generally comprise less than 0.1% of the iron sand.
Are there any risks associated with using iron sand?
Studies have shown that iron sand is chemically stable and there are no reported indications of negative environmental effects associated with the use of iron sand. Boliden believes that the use of iron sand is risk-free. Instructions for the use of iron sand, which include a specification of the material’s composition, guidelines for handling it, and a description of the ways in which it may be used, have also been extant for many years now. It is important that these instructions are followed in order to take advantage of and optimise the effectiveness of the iron sand’s excellent insulating and drainage properties.Studies have been conducted on a rolling basis over the years and it has not, to date, been possible to demonstrate any negative environmental effects. These studies include:
- Field studies (long- and short-term) of roads/cycle paths/residential areas
- Work environment measurements involving people working with the material, e.g. in road construction
- In-depth studies as part of work on doctoral theses at Luleå University of Technology
- Leaching tests and toxicological studies of the ways in which different organisms are affected by the leach water
Why does Boliden dispute the municipality’s view that iron sand should be classified as waste?
Boliden is of the opinion that the municipality’s classification of iron sand as waste and the introduction of stricter usage restrictions are unwarranted. These restrictions constitute a de facto ban on the use of iron sand.
Boliden is of the opinion that iron sand complies with all of the statutory requirements for classification as a by-product. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s manual is not legally binding and is not even applicable to iron sand. The manual includes guideline values which are, in principle, designed to ensure that waste can, generally speaking, be used anywhere. These kinds of guideline values cannot be applied to the use of iron sand, which is a tried and trusted, well-studied by-product with a designated sphere of use. The guideline values assume 100% metal accessibility.
Boliden is of the opinion that iron sand is a product and an excellent material for use in ground insulation and drainage, and one which should be used in preference to diminishing finite material resources, such as quarries. It is, fundamentally, about being sparing in our use of natural resources.
It is important that iron sand is handled correctly, in accordance with existing instructions for use. Studies conducted to date shown that iron sand is chemically stable and that there are no negative environmental effects associated with the use of iron sand. Complementary studies will be carried out.
How will the new guidelines affect Rönnskär?
The municipality’s restrictions on use have resulted in a complete cessation of sales of the iron sand by-product. Iron sand is now being stored in the industrial park area while Boliden investigates a range of alternative uses within its mining operations. Boliden is currently engaged in discussions with the municipality on various alternatives for shared landfill areas outside Rönnskär’s industrial park area.
Boliden supports the municipality’s plans to expand the port of Skellefteå on the northern side of the harbour basin and believes that iron sand would be an excellent filling material for a large area. The approval by the Construction & Environmental Committee of the intermediate storage of iron sand at Näsudden is a step in the right direction, but the County Administrative Board has the final say.
How long can the iron sand be stored at Rönnskär?
The industrial park area deposit still has space for additional storage, but the storage space is not unlimited. A certain amount of the deposit is being used in a variety of projects in the area.
What is Boliden’s responsibility for all the iron sand used in Skellefteå municipality since the 1970s?
Iron sand is an excellent product that has been used for many years in road construction and landscaping work in Skellefteå. The fact that the municipality has changed the classification of iron sand does not alter the properties of the iron sand. Boliden Rönnskär sells iron sand as a product and accepts the responsibility that ensues from such sales.