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What To Do About Water Pollution in the Mining Industry

What To Do About Water Pollution in the Mining Industry

Water is a limited resource on this planet. Regardless of this fact, it is a desired and necessary resource in every household and industry, but yet there are some industries where water is wasted and polluted with no further thought or action. 

The mining industry is one of those specific sectors which we will be looking at today. Water pollution is no secret when it comes to mining, but there are recycling and treatment solutions to turn the environmentally negative effect into a positive one. And all mining institutions are encouraged to adopt these practices. Not only to improve their eco-friendly status but also to be smarter about their water use and reduce production costs. 


What is water used for in mining?

Water is used to extract the valuable minerals from the quarry. It is also used on a mining site to process the minerals, recover metals, control dust and quench workers’ thirst. 

Depending on the type of mine (metal or nonmetal mines), the amount of water that is required will differ. The mining sector in South Africa reportedly only uses 3% of the country’s water but when it comes to saving a limited resource, the efforts from all industries are required. And in an industry where water is used for processes as opposed to purely consumption purposes, creating a water recycling system should be a requirement for all businesses in the industry. 


Different types of mining water 

Again, dependent on the mining functions where water is needed, there will be different types of mining water (pollution) that is leftover after it’s been used. There are treatment options for the different types of mining water that can make them reusable. Mining water refers to water that has been used from a designated mine water source, in order to complete mining functions. 

  • Acid Mine Drainage (AMD): There is a naturally occurring process called Acid Rock Drainage (ARD) that produces sulphuric acid from the exposure of water, air and the sulphides in rocks. With AMD, on the other hand, it uses the same process only magnified by the scale of an excavation in mining. As there will always be large quantities of sulphide-mineral-rich rocks, water and air at a mining site, the sulphuric acid will constantly be drained from the rocks through rainwater or surface drainage and let out into nearby rivers. Acid Mine Drainage is by far the most common and problematic mining water pollution issue. 
  • Heavy metal contamination (Leachate): When arsenic, cobalt, copper, cadmium, lead, silver and zinc metals are exposed to water, heavy metal contamination occurs. When the metals leach from the rock, they also run into the nearby water sources and pollute the water. 
  • Processing chemicals pollution: The process of combining cyanide or sulphuric acid with water to extract minerals from their ores results in runoff that contaminates nearby rivers. These chemicals, along with the pollution from the above-mentioned types of mining water pollutants, are incredibly harmful to wildlife, marine life, as well as human life.  
  • Sedimentation: If you consider the heavy-duty equipment and almost constant earth-moving activity that occurs at mining sites, it’s no surprise that erosion of the land leads to increased sedimentation in nearby water sources. 


What happens to the polluted water? 

Water pollution from mining sites, as we have discussed, run off the site and right into the precious water sources that are used for recreational purposes such as fishing or swimming, used as a municipal water supply or even possibly used in irrigation in the agricultural sector. Regardless of what the affected water source is used for, it will have an effect on the human population in some way. 

And it’s also important to note that just because a mining site is no longer “active” doesn’t mean that it’s no longer polluting surrounding water sources. These sites need to be controlled and managed for decades after they’ve been shut down. 


What can be done about it?

PROXA Water are experts in the entire water cycle and have successfully worked within the African mineral and mining industry to make a positive change. 

When you look at some of the solutions regarding what can be done about water pollution in the mining industry, you’re looking at:

  • Recycling water processes to ensure “new” water usage is decreased. 
  • Diverting runoff water to prevent contamination of nearby water sources. 
  • Water treatment processes for surface water, process waters and other types of mining water.
  • Implement a constant water management system both during and long after all mining efforts on the site.

We need to do everything possible to protect our water resource and ensure that no harm comes to society as a result of contaminated water. And the mining industry needs to implement these necessary water treatment and saving processes in order to do so. 

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