One of the key components of human civilization has been mining, which is the process of removing valuable resources from the soil. Rocks and minerals have been utilized by sculptors to make statues, by artisans to craft items, and by architects to construct monuments since antiquity. Tools, jewelry, and other items were also made from mineral resources. But. This has served as a metaphor for our mining-based civilization throughout the years. Mined materials include coal, gold, and iron ore, to name a few.
Through direct and indirect mining practices, mining can have an impact on the environment at local, regional, and international levels. The consequences can include soil erosion, sinkholes, biodiversity loss, and contamination of surface, ground, and freshwater resources by chemicals released during mining operations. Carbon emissions from these activities also have an impact on the atmosphere, which in turn affects biodiversity and human health.
Some countries require mining companies to adhere to strict environmental and rehabilitation codes to ensure that the mined area returns to its original state. Examples of these methods include mining for lithium, phosphate, coal, mountaintop removal, and sand. These methods may have a significant negative impact on the environment and public health.
Now, let’s look at the effect of mining on the environment.
Table of Contents
Effects of Mining on the Environment
Below are the negative effects of mining on the environment
- Water Quantity
- Water Pollution
- Air Pollution
- Acid Mine Drainage
- Heavy Metal Pollution
- Impact on Biodiversity
One of the effects of mining on the environment is erosion. The enormous Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea is a perfect example of how nearby areas can be significantly impacted by the erosion of exposed slopes, mine dumps, tailings dams, and the resulting siltation of drainages, creeks, and rivers. The ecosystem of plants may experience a reduction in population as a result of soil erosion reducing the water available for plant growth.
Excessive rainfall, poor soil management, and chemical exposure from mining are the main causes of soil erosion. Mining has the potential to ruin ecosystems and habitats in wilderness areas, as well as productive pastures and croplands in farming areas.
Of other effects of mining on the environment, sinkholes are one of the most unpredictable effects of mining on the environment and this is because they can happen at any time. Typically, the breakdown of a mine roof due to resource extraction, brittle overburden, or geological discontinuities results in a sinkhole at or near a mine site. In the subsoil or rock, the overburden at the mine site may form cavities that can fill with sand and soil from the strata above.
Eventually, one of these overburdened cavities could cave in and create a sinkhole at the surface. Without prior notice, the ground collapses suddenly, leaving a sizable depression at the surface that poses a significant risk to both human life and property.
With the right infrastructure design, including mining supports and stronger wall construction to surround an area prone to sinkholes, sinkholes at a mine site can be reduced. Underground workings that have been abandoned can be stabilized by backfilling and grouting.
3. Water Quantity
One of the most overlooked effects of mining on the environment is depletion in water quantity. Surface and groundwater resources may be depleted by mining. Even kilometers away from the actual mine site, groundwater withdrawals can harm or destroy streamside ecology.
- The Humboldt River is being drained in Nevada, the driest state in the union, to help gold mining activities along the Carlin Trend.
- More than 580 billion gallons of water—enough to supply New York City’s taps for more than a year—have been pumped out of mines in the northeastern Nevada desert since 1986.
- The water table is dropping and the river is drying up as a result of groundwater being taken out of the Santa Cruz River Basin in southern Arizona to be used in a nearby copper mine.
4. Water Pollution
Water pollution is one of the effects of mining on the environment. “Water is more precious than gold” in the arid mountain West. Demand for this naturally scarce resource has increased as a result of dramatic population expansion and record-breaking droughts in some regions of the West in recent decades.
More water treatment is required to make contaminated water suitable for human consumption and agricultural use, which degrades water supplies further and raises consumer costs.
Surface and groundwater nearby may be harmed by mining. Unnaturally high concentrations of chemicals, such as arsenic, sulfuric acid, and mercury, can spread over a wide region of surface or subsurface water if necessary safeguards are not taken.
These compounds are more likely to contaminate ground and surface water when large amounts of water are used for mining activities such as aqueous extraction, mine cooling, mine drainage, and other mining processes. Mining generates a lot of wastewater, but there are only a few disposal options available because the wastewater is contaminated.
These pollutants may be present in runoff, which could destroy nearby flora. The worst alternative is to dump the runoff in many kinds of wood or surface waters. As a result, disposal of undersea tailings is thought to be preferable (if the waste is pumped to great depth).
If no woods need to be removed to store the rubble, then land storage and refilling the mine after it has been emptied is preferable. The local population’s health is impacted by the poisoning of watersheds brought on by chemical leaks.
Hydrologists and geologists carefully measure the water in well-managed mines to take precautions against any potential water contamination brought on by mine operations.
By requiring operators to adhere to requirements for the preservation of surface and groundwater from contamination, federal and state law enforces the reduction of environmental damage in American mining practices. The easiest way to accomplish this is by using non-toxic extraction techniques like bioleaching.
5. Air Pollution
In mining operations, air pollution which is one of the effects of mining on the environment is caused when hundreds of tons of rock are dug out, transferred, and crushed, greatly boosting the amount of dust and particulates in the air. Furthermore, mine tailings, which may contain finely crushed and even poisonous waste, are capable of dispersing into the air. Human health may be directly impacted by this air pollution.
Air pollution hinders the accumulation of resources, which has a detrimental effect on plant growth. Numerous air pollutants, including O3 and NOx, interfere with net carbon fixation by the plant canopy and the metabolic function of leaves once they come into contact with the atmosphere.
Heavy metals and other air pollutants first deposited on the soil hurt root development and prevent plants from effectively utilizing soil resources. The allocation of resources to the various plant structures will vary as a result of these decreases in resource capture, which include the generation of carbohydrates through photosynthesis, mineral nutrient intake, and water uptake from the soil.
The effect on development when air pollution stress co-occurs with other stresses, such as water stress, depends on a complex interplay of activities within the plant. Air pollution has the potential to alter the competitive dynamics within an ecosystem, which could modify the composition of the local plant community. These alterations in agroecosystems may show up as a decreased economic yield.
6. Acid Mine Drainage
To know how critical the effects of mining on the environment are, take a look at acid mine drainage. Since sub-surface mining frequently takes place below the water table, flooding must be constantly avoided by pumping water out of the mine. When a mine is closed, the pumping stops, and the mine is flooded with water. In the majority of acid rock drainage problems, this first entry of water is the first stage.
Large quantities of ore containing sulfides, iron, and precious metals like gold and silver are discovered through mining. Sulfuric acid is produced when the sulfides in the ore are exposed to water and the atmosphere. This acid can seep from mines and waste rock piles into streams, rivers, and groundwater. Acid mine drainage is the term for this seepage.
Acid rock drainage occurs naturally in some environments as a byproduct of the weathering of rocks, but it is made worse by extensive earth disturbances caused by mining and other major building projects, typically in sulfide-rich rocks.
Acid rock drainage may occur in places where the earth has been disturbed, such as building sites, subdivisions, and highways. When highly acidic liquid drains from coal stocks, coal handling facilities, coal washeries, and coal waste tips, it is referred to as acid mine drainage in those areas (AMD).
Acid sulfate soils created under coastal or estuary circumstances following the last significant sea-level rise may be disturbed, which might lead to the same kinds of chemical reactions and processes and pose a comparable environmental risk.
At mine sites, groundwater pumping systems, containment ponds, subsurface drainage systems, and subsurface barriers are the five main technologies utilized to monitor and manage water flow. When it comes to AMD, contaminated water is often pumped to a treatment facility where the toxins are neutralized.
In a review of environmental impact statements conducted in 2006, it was discovered that “predictions of water quality made after taking mitigation effects into account substantially understated actual impacts to groundwater, seeps, and surface water.”
Acid mine drainage, which may burn human skin and kill fish and aquatic species, can be 20 to 300 times more acidic than acid rain. The water in the Richmond Mine in California was some of the most acidic water ever observed. The water had been known to catch fire and was more corrosive than battery acid.
Acid mine drainage also causes extra water contamination by leaching hazardous metals from ore and waste rock, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and lead. After mining activities stop, they can frequently continue for decades or even centuries. European mines that were operated by the Romans before the year 476 A.D. are still leaking acid due to acid mine drainage.
7. Heavy Metal Pollution
Pollution by heavy metals is one of the effects of mining on the environment. Natural elements with a high atomic weight and a density at least five times greater than that of water are known as heavy metals. Their widespread distribution in the environment as a result of their numerous industrial, domestic, agricultural, medical, and technological applications has raised questions about their potential effects on both human health and the environment.
Naturally, heavy metals are arranged to prevent plants from quickly absorbing them. They appear in insoluble shapes, such as those seen in mineral structures, or in precipitated or complicated shapes that are not immediately available for plant uptake.
Because of the incredible soil adsorption capability of naturally occurring heavy metals, they are not immediately available to living things. When compared to inputs from anthropogenic sources, the holding power between naturally occurring heavy metals and soil is particularly strong.
Another illustration of the negative effects of mining on the environment is the dissolution and movement of metals and heavy metals by runoff and groundwater, as at the former copper mine known as the Britannia Mine, located close to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Local groundwater became contaminated when water from the mine that included dissolved heavy metals like lead and cadmium flowed into the area. Tailings and dust should not be stored for an extended period since they might easily be blown away by the wind, as happened at the defunct copper mine Skouriotissa in Cyprus. Environmental changes such as global warming and increased mining activity may increase the content of heavy metals in the stream sediments.
Before mining can start in an open cast mine, the overburden, which may be covered with forest, must be cleared. If there is a significant level of local endemism, even though the quantity of deforestation caused by mining may be minimal relative to the overall amount, it could result in the extinction of species making it one of the effects of mining on the environment that needs to be looked into.
Due to the number of toxins and heavy metals that are released into the soil and water environment during the lifetime of coal mining, it is one of the dirtiest cycles that result in deforestation. Although it takes a while for the effects of coal mining to have an impact on the environment, burning coals and starting fires that can last for decades can produce flying ash and raise greenhouse gas levels.
Specifically strip mining, which has the potential to harm nearby forests, landscapes, and wildlife habitats. Agricultural land may be destroyed when trees, plants, and topsoil are removed from the mining area affecting food production. In addition, when it rains, ashes and other contaminants are carried downstream, harming fish.
Even after the mining site is shut down, these effects may still be felt, upsetting the natural order of the land and making it necessary to wait longer than usual for the deforestation to be restored. Legal mining, while more environmentally responsible than illicit mining, still contributes significantly to the destruction of tropical nations’ forests.
9. Impact on Biodiversity
Source: PNG does deal with ‘devil’ it knows over gold mine (The Fiji Times)
The impact on biodiversity is one of the effects of mining on the environment. Smaller disturbances, such as persistent mine waste poisoning of the ecosystem, happen on a broader scale than exploitation sites. The implantation of a mine represents a huge habitat alteration. Long after the mine’s operations have ended, negative impacts may still be visible.
Anthropogenic material releases and site destruction or radical change can have a significant impact on the local biodiversity. The primary factor causing biodiversity losses is habitat destruction, although other factors include direct poisoning from mine-extracted material and indirect poisoning via food and water.
Communities nearby are disturbed by habitat modifications such as pH and temperature change. Since they need highly specialized environmental conditions, endemic species are very vulnerable.
They ran the risk of going extinct if their habitat was destroyed. Habitats can be harmed by non-chemical products such as huge rocks from mines that are dumped in the surrounding terrain, which hurt natural habitat, as well as by a lack of sufficient terrestrial product.
The effects on biodiversity often follow the same pattern as concentrations of heavy metals, which are known to diminish with increasing distance from the mine. Impacts can vary widely depending on the contaminant’s mobility and bioavailability; although highly mobile molecules can rapidly transfer into another compartment or be ingested by creatures, less mobile molecules will remain inert in the environment.
Biomagnification plays an important role in polluted habitats: Because of this occurrence, the effects of mining on biodiversity should be greater for the species at the top of the food chain, given that concentration levels are not high enough to immediately kill exposed organisms.
The nature of the pollutant, the concentration at which it can be detected in the environment, and the characteristics of the ecosystem itself all play a significant role in adverse mining effects on biodiversity. Some species are remarkably resilient to perturbations caused by humans, while others will entirely vanish from the contaminated area.
The ecosystem does not appear to be able to fully recover from the contamination with time alone. Remediation procedures require time, and they typically do not allow for the restoration of the original variety that existed before the mining activity.
We have seen how damaging the effects of mining on the environment can be, what can we do about it? Is it to stop all mining activities? I would say no to that. One way we can reduce the effects of mining on the environment is to ensure the safety of life and the environment before, during, and after the mining process. This can be done through effective environmental impact assessment.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.