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Zinc and lead ores


Documented zinc and lead deposits occur in the area of the northern and north-eastern margin of the Upper Silesian Coal Basin in southern Poland. The Zn-Pb deposits occurring in this area are related mainly to a carbonate rocks formation of the Silesian-Cracow region built of the Permo-Mesozoic successions resting monoclinally on the Paleozoic sedimentary deposits. Along the regional tectonical Cracow-Libliniec zone these Paleozoic deposits are riddled by the acidic and alcalic igneous-volcanic deposits of the Carboniferous-Permian age. The rock hosting zinc and lead mineralization ranges in age from the Devonian to Jurassic. Resources of the economic importance are mainly related to the ore accumulations in the so-called ore-bearing dolomites of the Middle Triassic (Muschelkalk). The zinc-lead ores occur in the form of pseudo-layers, sub-horizontal lenses, nest-like replacements and pipes. The Silesian-Cracow region is regarded as the world's largest area of Zn-Pb deposits occurrence of the so-called Mississippi Valley-type deposits (MVT).

Resources and output

There are 4 areas of Zn-Pb ore deposits recognized in the Silesian-Cracow region: Chrzanów, Olkusz, Bytom and Zawiercie regions. In 2020, the exploitation carried out so far of ores from the Klucze I, Olkusz and Pomorzany deposits in the Olkusz region was ended. The “Olkusz-Pomorzany” mine was put into liquidation, and the Minister of Climate and Environment on 15th of January 2021 decided to extinguish an exploitation concession for above mentioned deposits as of 1.01.2021. The Zn-Pb deposits of the Bytom and Chrzanów regions are of the historical importance only. The deposits have been exhausted in the result of the exploitation conducted since the Middle Ages and now comprise some anticipated sub-economic resources of mainly oxide ores (the so-called “calamines”) with minor participation of sulfide ores. The exploitation of deposits of the 4th region (Zawiercie) has not started up to now. The location of Zn-Pb ores deposits in Poland are presented on the general and detailed maps.

The Zn-Pb concentrations accompanying the sulfide copper and silver ores occur in the Zeschstein copper-silver deposits in the Fore-Sudetic Monocline. The average lead contents are only in the range of 0.05-0.3%, therefore the lead recovery is possible only in the course of a copper concentrate treatment in smelters. According to the data provided by the KGHM Polish Copper S.A., in 2022 the copper and silver processing was accompanied by a recovery of 28.77 thousand tonnes of lead.

The most important prospects for the Zn-Pb ores resources growths are connected with the Silesian-Cracow region – where in the carbonate rocks of the Middle Triassic and the Devonian age the sulfide Zn-Pb mineralization of the MVT type occur. As of the 31.12.2018, in the Olkusz region, the estimated prognostic resources are equal about 35 million tonnes of the Zn-Pb ores, whereas in the Zawiercie region – about 25 million tonnes of the Zn-Pb ores*. The Zn oxide ores (the calamines), occurring in the Silesian-Cracow region have not been exploited for many years and their prognostic resources in the abandoned deposits have to be verified and assessed according to the current limit values of the parameters that define the deposit and its boundaries.

Estimations of Zn-Pb ores resources in the Silesian-Cracow region have been changing markedly during the last several dozen years. These changes resulted on one hand from an intense exploration and exploitation of the deposits and on the other – from a crossing out the resources of zinc oxide ores (the calamines) from the official records of domestic resources of mineral raw materials. The decision to cross out the resources was connected with high occupational and environmental hazards associated with a technology used at that time in the oxide ore processing. The problems in the technology were finally solved. Therefore, it appeared necessary to introduce special criteria for the classification of oxide ore resources not meeting those of the sulfide ores. Such separate criteria for Zn oxide ore resources were established by the Regulation of the Minister of the Environment on classification for mineral reserves and resources of 9th January 2007. According to the Geological and Mining Law obliging since the 1st of January 2012 there are separated criteria for sulphide and oxide ores deposits called “the limit values of the parameters that defines the deposit and its boundaries”.

Table 1 shows resources and the current state of exploration and development of Zn-Pb deposits.

The anticipated economic resources of Zn-Pb ores as of 31.12.2022 amounted to 91.94 million tonnes of ore yielding 3.90 million tonnes of zinc and 1.46 million tonnes of lead. The resources of ore increased by 0.96 million tonnes, resources of metallic zinc by 0.05 million tonnes and those of metallic lead by 0.03 million tonnes. It was a result of approval of new documentations with recalculated resources for (supplements) for the Olkusz and Pomorzany deposits – documentations were elaborated to make the resources settlement after the exploitation end. The resources increased significantly especially for the Olkusz deposit (twofold – for ores and metallic zinc, and fourfold – for metallic lead).

The majority of the anticipated economic resources of Zn-Pb ores is documented in C2 category (52.14%) and C1 category (25.46%), much less resources in A+B category (14.52%) and in D category (7.86%).

As of 31.12.2022, there was not any exploitation concession valid for zinc and lead deposits, therefore the exploitation of zinc and lead ores in Poland was not recorded.

The figure given below shows changes in resources and production of zinc and lead ores in Poland in the years 1989-2022.

The figure below shows changes in resources and output of zinc in Poland in the years 1989-2022.

The figure below shows changes in resources and output of lead in Poland in the years 1989-2022.

Prepared by: Agnieszka Malon, Marcin Tymiński, Stanisław Z. Mikulski

* Mikulski S.Z., Retman W., 2020 - "Rudy cynku i ołowiu (zinc and lead ores)". In: "Bilans perspektywicznych zasobów kopalin Polski wg stanu na 31.12.2018 r." (eds. Szamałek K., Szuflicki M., Mizerski W.): 152-161. PIG-PIB, Warszawa [in Polish].