General Impacts of mining on the environment
The purpose of this article is to educate people on how mining can affect our environment. We are not in anyway against mining but we’re here to inform every reader that somehow mining can be harmful to our environment, all images are used for educational purposes only.
Air: Mining has a great effect on the quality of the air. Since mines need to blast through rock to get to an ore, dust may be produced in the process. Coal mines release methane, which contributes to environmental issues because it is a greenhouse gas. The methane is sometimes captured, but only where it is economically feasible to do so. Some cooling plants may release ozone-depleting substances, but the amount released is very small. Non-vegetated or uncapped tailings dams release dust, and when radioactive elements are found in the ore, radiation is emitted. Heavy metals, such as sulfur dioxide, may be polluted into the air by unsafe smelter operations with insufficient safeguards. The gold mining industry is one of the most destructive industries in the world, because of all of the toxins that are released into the air. Acid rain and smog are also some side-effects of mining. Every year, 142 million tons of sulfur dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere because of smelting. That’s 13% of total global emissions.
Water: Mines use a lot of water, though some of the water is reusable. Sulfide – containing minerals, when oxidized through contact with air, via mining, form sulfuric acid. This, when combined with trace elements, negatively impacts groundwater. This happens from both surface and underground mines. Another way surface and underground water are affected is through tailings dams and waste rock heaps, because they are a source of acidic drainage water.
Leftover chemical deposits from explosives are usually toxic, and increase the salinity of mine water, as well as contaminating it. Groundwater can be directly contaminated through “in situ” mining, in which a solvent seeps into un-mined rock, leaching minerals. In the extraction of minerals, some toxins (for example cyanide and mercury) are used that can permanently pollute the water, making it hard for fishers to find fish. Spills into oceans and lakes add toxic heavy metals and sulfuric acid into the environment, which can take ages to fix. Also, Acid Mine Drainage lowers the pH of the water, making it more acidic.
Land: There are many environmental concerns about the effects mining has on the land. Trees need to be cut down in order to have a mine built, and whole forests could be destroyed. Mining involves moving large quantities of rock, and in surface mining, overburden land impacts are immense. Overburden is the material that lies overtop of the desirable mineral deposits that must be removed before the mining process begins. Some mines make an effort to return the rock and land to its original appearance by returning the rock and overburden to the pit that they were taken out of. Copper mines sometimes extract ore that has very little copper actually in it (less than 1%). Almost all of the mined ore of non-ferrous metals becomes waste. A lot of areas are pock marked by thousands of small holes by people digging in search of precious minerals. Mining activities also may lead to erosion, which is dangerous and bad for the land. It destroys river banks, and changes how the river flows, where it flows, what lives in it, etc. Toxins used in the extraction of minerals (for example cyanide and byproducts like mercury) can permanently pollute the land, which makes people not able to farm in certain places. Open-pit mining leaves behind large craters that can be seen from outer-space.
Ecosystem Damage: Mines are highly damaging to the ecosystems surrounding them. Many different types of mines affect many different types of ecosystems. For example, deep-sea mines are at high risk of eliminating rare and potentially valuable organisms. Mining destroys animal habitats and ecosystems. Pits that mines create could have been home to some animals. Also, the activity that surrounds the mine, including people movement, explosions, road construction, transportation of the goods, the sounds made, etc. are harmful to the ecosystems and will change the way the animals have to live, because they will have to find a new way to cope with the mine and live around it. Spills of deadly substances obviously have a very negative effect on animals and ecosystems in general. Many of the toxins and tailings that are discharged from the mines can disrupt and disturb the way animals live, and their health. Mining can completely destroy ecosystems by adding or taking out something from the animals’ everyday lives, therefore throwing the whole thing out of balance.
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