10 Environmental Impacts of Copper Mining

The environmental impacts of copper mining can’t be overlooked, as it is one of the most consumed metals globally. it happens to be the third most used metal in the world, and industries primarily use it. This metal is mined in Canada, Chile, Kazakhstan, Zambia, etc.

Copper is a valuable metal that is very useful to the environment, but the major challenge is that the processes of mining this metal that is used to extract it are very corrosive to the environment.

in this article, we are looking at the environmental impacts of copper mining

Before we proceed to the impacts, let’s briefly see what copper is.

Copper is a pure metal that conducts electricity due to its low resistance, is a good conductor of electricity, and is a vital element of electrical appliances. It is also used in the construction industry.

Environmental Impacts of Copper Mining

The environmental impacts of copper mining affect several areas of nature. below are the impacts

1. Water Pollution

One of the negative environmental impacts of copper mining is water pollution. Due to the processes, it goes through during mining, the water in the copper mine gets polluted, and the copper acid makes the water look reddish and contaminates it. This contaminated water badly impacts aquifers, farmland, groundwater, and wildlife.

The amount of water generated at the mine varies depending on the location. Mine water chemistry relies on the geochemistry of the copper body and the environment.

Most times, at some sites, they expose water to sulfur-bearing materials in an oxidizing area like an underground or open pit construction, which becomes acidified and pollutes the water in that environment. hence clean water becomes very difficult to get in such an environment.

For every tonne of copper extracted, 99 tonnes of waste material is removed, making proper waste management difficult and contaminating the water within that environment.

2. Deforestation

Before copper mining is carried out they cut down trees to dig a pit to process it, this causes deforestation which can severely destroy the environment especially our forest

Copper miners have to clear a notable amount of forest to dig open pit mines that are enormous, thousands of feet deep, and almost a mile in diameter. Wildlife species become extinct as a result of forest clearing.

With the rate at which copper mining is increasing the need to dig an open pit mine will also increase, and there is the possibility of our forests too quickly running out which will make many animals, especially wildlife lose their home and vanish.

If forests are no more, it will also affect humans because we can’t survive without nature, and the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere will increase, which will result in global warming.

3. Land Degradation

Photo by Dylan Leagh

Land degradation is one of the environmental impacts of copper mining due to the topsoil being destroyed because of the sloping nature of the open pits dug, which will have an impact on land resources as well as rocks, land cover, water resources, and soils.

Copper mining exposes the environment to erosion and its agents, such as water and wind. The obstruction of routes can result in the temporary or permanent relocation of wildlife in the background.

4. Human Health

One of the negative environmental impacts of copper mining is on human health. Rock excavation from underground that is deep can be very dangerous to human health because these rocks are being exposed to the atmosphere for the first time, and they can disseminate toxic chemicals and radioactive substances to the health of people surrounding the mine and also the soil.

The toxic chemical Copper mining releases pollutants into the air, which cause pollution. Air pollution is very dangerous to human health as it causes severe harm to the eyes, skin, and respiratory organs, and breathing becomes very difficult. We are not neglecting the fact that some copper is needed for human health; it is just that an excess of it is deadly.

5. Loss of Habitat

loss of habitat
Photo by Janko Ferlic

Loss of habitat is one of the environmental impacts of copper mining and is a very serious issue related to mining activity generally. Animals are killed during copper mining, and many of them flee the area.

Most times, animals are poisoned by mine residuals and products. Bioaccumulation in the smaller organisms or in the plants they feed on can be poisonous. For instance, sheep, goats, and cattle are exposed to high concentrations of copper in the grass.

It was discovered that several ant species in the soil contain toxic concentrated copper, which means in the copper mining environment the possibility of organisms’ or animals’ impacts will be high, leading to the destruction of this habitat around the mine.

6. Aquatic Life

This is one of the environmental impacts of copper mining. The toxic chemicals that are released during copper mining impact the aquatic environment, especially invertebrates, fish, amphibians, and plants. This effect may impair organism morality and reduce reproduction, growth, and survival.

7. Air Pollution

Air pollution is one of the environmental impacts of copper mining, it generates much dust, especially when digging the open pit and toxic substances are emitted into the atmosphere that ends up contaminating the air and affecting the respiratory organs of humans, which makes breathing difficult.

As a result of this, the entire ecosystem suffers from it. Once the atmosphere is polluted the possibility of people getting sick becomes very high.

People that live around the mine suffer from common ailments like respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis and asthma because they inhaled the silica dust particles generated from the mining and processing of copper.  Most Miners suffer from pneumoconiosis or silicosis.

8. Acid Mine Drainage

acid mine drainage

Acid mine drainage organically happens as part of the rock weathering process in some environments but is magnified by the extensive disturbances of the earth’s features of mining and other massive construction activities, generally inside the rock contains sufficient sulfide minerals.

Copper-iron-sulfide is the frequent mine ore of chalcopyrite, and copper and occurs with a mixture of another sulfide. Hence copper mining is the major cause 0f acid mine drainage.

9. Releasing of Copper into the Environment

This is one of the environmental impacts of copper mining. The release of copper into our environment is via the manufacturing process, agriculture, and copper mining. It can also find its way into our environment through natural processes like forest fires, windblown dust, eruptions, decaying vegetation, and volcanic activity.

During copper mining, copper is released into the environment in large quantities, and copper released into the environment does not decompose. Copper compounds release free copper to foods, water, and air because they can break down.

10. Waste Generation

Waste generation is one of the impacts of copper mining on the environment.

The processing waste generated in the United State and metal mining that has the largest percentage of the waste is copper mining. A large scale of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM)  concentration is in copper mining wastes.

Radionuclides in the waste rock and tailings can be concentrated and exposed through the mining and extraction of copper via the underground or surface method.

At copper mines, electrowinning processes or solvent extraction and leaching together with the practice of recycling raffinate tend to extract and concentrate soluble radioactive materials if possible.

Copper mining waste storage piles are probably as large as 1,000 acres and commonly contain three types of waste; which are

  • Dump, heap, and tailings wastes,
  • Overburden
  • Waste rock

Compared to the original material mined, the amount of vendible copper generated is small. About several hundred metric tons of ore must be managed for each metric ton of copper metal produced, hence generating large waste quantities. For instance:

At the processing site, In-situ leaching can transport uranium and thorium into surface water or groundwater. In the PLS of two in-situ leach operations in Arizona High levels of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM) have been discovered.

Yearly Copper smelting and refining facilities generate 2.5 million metric tons (MT) of smelter slag and 1.5 million MT of slag tailings. Meanwhile compared to the commensurable volume of waste from mining and crushing operations is very small.

10 Environmental Impacts of Copper Mining – FAQs

What are the Environmental Impacts of Copper Mining?

Water pollution
Land degradation
Air pollution
Acid mine drainage
Waste generation


We have successfully looked at the environmental impacts of copper mining. We focused primarily on the negative impacts it has on our environment, which we discussed. Proper measures should be put in place to reduce the negative impacts copper mining has on the environment.


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