7 Environmental Impacts of Iron Ore Mining

There are environmental impacts of iron ore mining involved in all phases, and this includes drilling, beneficiation, and transportation.

This is the outcome of the significant amount of environmentally hazardous iron ore tailings—solid waste generated during the beneficiation process of iron ore concentrates—that have been released into the environment.

A rock known as iron ore is easily mined and transported, has enough iron in it, and is profitable to extract. The most prevalent forms of iron found in ores are siderite (FeCO3), limonite (FeO(OH)・n(H2O)), goethite (FeO(OH)), magnetite (Fe3O4), and hematite (Fe2O3). The two most prevalent forms of iron ore are magnetite and hematite.

Steel production uses over 98% of the iron ore available on the global market. Iron ore is a significant material that is used to extract metallic iron. Due to the increasing demand for metals, mining, and processing must be done continuously, producing a lot of liquid and solid waste.

Massive amounts of tailings containing dangerous elements, including Fe, Mn, Cu, Pb, Co, Cr, Ni, and Cd, are produced throughout the extraction process. An estimated 32% of the iron ore that was taken is still in the form of tailings.

High concentrations of dissolved iron and particle-suspended matter are found in iron ore mining wastewater tailings, which change the chemistry of water and the bioavailability of metals.

Mining and Processing

To extract the metals and turn them into metallic (chemically uncombined) form, ores are typically mined and then put through a variety of mechanical and chemical metallurgical processes. Three different sorts of operations are involved in recovering metal from ore.

  • The ore dressing, or metal separation
  • The first chemical cleansing
  • Reduction of metal, usually with refining treatment in between.

There are several steps involved in extracting iron from its ore: first, the precious minerals are separated from the gangue, or waste elements, and then the iron ore is calcined to produce a valuable metal.

The majority of the processing is carried out in blast furnaces, which first reduce iron ore to pig iron and then, depending on the type of furnace it is heated in (cupola, puddling, or OH furnaces), reduce it to steel, cast iron, and wrought iron.

Common extraction techniques for iron ore include blasting, drilling, and general excavation. Open-pit mines produce the majority of the iron ore.

To break and loosen intact rock and enable the extraction of ore and other materials for delivery to a processing facility, stockpile, or waste dump, explosive materials are drilled into holes and fired. This operation is known as blasting iron ore.

The iron and steel production plant may receive the iron ore once it is extracted from the earth. The ore is usually beneficiated from an iron-ore concentrate that normally includes more than 60% iron if it contains less than 60% iron.

This is accomplished by separating the valuable minerals from the iron minerals, typically using froth flotation, gravity, or magnetic methods.

Environmental Impacts of Iron Ore Mining

  • Air Quality
  • Acid Rock Drainage
  • Wetlands and Flora
  • Megafauna
  • Water Quality
  • Physical Disturbances
  • Public Safety

1. Air Quality

The main sources of emissions during the construction and operation phases are fumigant dust from machinery operation and combustion products like nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide.

During both the building and operation phases, fuel oil boilers, on-site road traffic, and diesel generators are the primary sources of emissions connected to combustion.

Emissions of fugitive dust may arise from equipment movements, excavation, and clearing of land. Ore loading and unloading, ore crushing, stockpile erosion, and dust from nearby conveyor systems are possible sources of fugitive dust during operations.

Due to daily weather fluctuations, fugitive dust emissions are directly correlated with the amount of disturbed land and activity intensity.

Industrial air pollution mostly affects wildlife through direct mortality, crippling diseases and injuries associated with the industry, and physiological and psychological stress.

At certain locations, worries about the effects on human health and the environment of gas and particle emissions from past smelting activities have been raised.

Smelters of today use procedures that drastically cut emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter because they understand how important it is to minimize and mitigate these effects.

Because sulfur dioxide produces sulfuric acid, sometimes referred to as “acid rain,” when it combines with atmospheric water vapor, it used to be the most frequently reported cause of worry.

The soils where these emissions settle may become acidic, which can harm existing plants and prevent them from growing.

Smelters are surrounded by barren areas due to the environmental effects of historical smelting. After decades of damage, some areas are finally starting to heal. In certain instances, emissions from historic metal smelters might have been harmful to human health.

For instance, higher lead levels in the blood of certain nearby local individuals were measured during the operation of a lead-zinc smelter.

Environmental controls are increasingly integrated with smelting operations to mitigate potential health and environmental risks related to emissions.

2. Acid Rock Drainage

Acids are created when sulfur-containing minerals and compounds in rocks combine with oxygen and water.

The most frequent chemical reaction that takes place during mining operations is sulfuric acid.

As part of the beneficiation process, the surrounding minerals must be dissolved, releasing metals and compounds into the surrounding freshwater bodies, rivers, and atmosphere that were previously linked to the rock.

Even though acids can be created naturally before disturbance, mining operations usually increase the amount of acid produced, which leads to environmental inequality. Acid mine drainage is the term for this process (AMD).

Many fish and other aquatic creatures, as well as terrestrial animals that consume water from contaminated sources, are in danger of health problems due to the acids generated by AMD.

Many metals become more mobile when water becomes more acidic, and in high quantities, these metals become poisonous to the majority of living things.

3. Wetlands and Flora

Certain mines need to drain adjacent wetlands to cool project machinery and complete the beneficiation process. This affects the quantity and quality of downstream water, as well as the local flora and wildlife. Marshes, marshes, marshes, shallows, etc. are examples of wetlands.

In the biosphere, wetlands perform a variety of tasks such as gathering and storing surface runoff, controlling river flows, minimizing erosion and natural flooding, purifying and cleansing water, replenishing groundwater supplies, and offering habitat to flora and fauna. It accomplishes something.

To accommodate alternative land uses, including agriculture, urbanization, industrial development, and recreation, wetlands are altered from their natural condition.

4. Megafauna

Certain species are more prone than others to degradation and transformation. Mining for iron ore involves a variety of operations that touch on most facets of ecology. Colossal creatures like wolves, caribou, and black bears are considered megafauna.

This kind of wild animal is sensitive to noise levels brought on by iron ore mining and infrastructure projects, and it displays notable behavioral changes during the estrous season and just before and after the delivery of its young.

These kinds of disruptions can make animals travel farther, which lowers their chances of successful reproduction and hunger.

5. Water Quality

Water is among the primary natural resources that are harmed by the extraction of iron ore. The farther you are from iron ore mining, the less pollution there is. Acidic water leaches metals from disturbed areas and carries them downstream to the ocean.

Water bodies become contaminated when iron ore is mined. When metal-bearing ore is exposed during iron ore mining instead of the ore body being naturally exposed through erosion, and when mined ore is exposed to the surface during the beneficiation process, there is a greater chance of contamination.

6. Physical Disturbances

The largest physical disturbance occurs at the mine site during actual mining operations, such as open pit mining and waste rock disposal sites. Mining buildings, including offices, shops, and industries, which usually occupy a minor amount of the disturbed area, are either salvaged or demolished after a mine closes.

The open pit and waste rock disposal sites are the primary visible and aesthetic effects of mining. Relatively small waste rock repositories, spanning a few acres to tens of acres (0.1 km2), are usually produced by underground mining.

These regions are usually located close to subterranean facility openings. Open pit mining has a bigger visual and physical impact than underground mining since it affects a larger area.

Large volumes of waste rock are hauled from the pit and dumped in the surrounding areas since the amount of waste rock produced in open pit mining is usually two to three times the amount of ore mined.

Slag piles, leach piles, and tailings impoundments are a few types of treated waste piles that come in different sizes, some of which are quite big.

Some of the biggest industrial reservoirs are hundreds of feet (about 100 meters) thick and span thousands of acres (tens of square kilometers), as in the case of open-pit copper mining.

A heap leach pile might be hundreds of feet (about 100 meters) in diameter or hundreds of acres (0.1 to 1 km2) in size.

7. Public Safety

People find old mining sites fascinating by nature, but they can also be dangerous. They might contain intriguing historic buildings, open or hidden access to subterranean workings, or surface pits.

A further safety concern at some mining sites is “subsidence,” or the sinking of the ground. In places where subsurface workings have approached the surface, the ground may progressively sink.

These are typically marked and avoided because an unplanned collapse can happen at any time.

Modern mine owners reduce the risks associated with closure by sealing off mine workings, regrading surface excavations to lessen their steep slopes, and preserving or removing structures.

Current mine owners, governmental organizations, or other interested parties may carry out reclamation and safety mitigation programs that address dangers at these sites in states where old mining areas are common, such as Colorado and Nevada.

These initiatives, at the very least, identify potential hazards, put up no-trespassing and warning signs, and fence off hazardous locations. As part of these measures, entrances to former subterranean workings may also be closed.

Certain decommissioned mine workings have developed into significant bat colony habitats. Mine opening closures can be made to keep bats safe and enable them to continue access.

Particularly beneficial to endangered bat species is this practice. The casual visitor to such places is advised to take caution and refrain from entering as many ancient mining sites may not be safe.


On the other hand, mining for iron ore seriously damages the ecology. It damages the surrounding natural environment, including the flora and fauna, surface and groundwater quality, and ambient air quality in the mining area.

Given how much the mining industry degrades the environment, this begs for greater attention to be paid to it.


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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *