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The Environmental Impacts of the Mining Industry

The Environmental Impacts of the Mining Industry

In the engineering industry, any kind of energy generating activity has a negative impact on our environment. Although these activities are crucial to living better lives, they are doing substantially more harm to our landscape than ever before. These activities make a direct impact on our air, water, public health, wildlife and habitat, water use, land and soil use and global warming. If mining workers don’t take immediate action in cleaning up their operations, the long-term impacts on humanity could be irreparable.


Here are the most significant environmental impacts:

Mining affects the air

Mining operations generate large amounts of material waste that easily gets dispersed by the wind into the air. These defined materials get released to the surface, and no matter the method or technique used, once the vegetation gets removed and the soil gets exposed to the weather, these particles become airborne through road traffic and wind erosion and releases further toxic materials into the air. Such toxic particles that get released into the air are absorbed into the body, contributing to human health illnesses.


Mining affects the land

Mining causes physical destruction on our land. This can be anything from open pits to rock waste and dumpsters that significantly impact the environment. This pollution will then go on to affect the fauna and flora around us, and depending on how big the disruption is, whatever was there before cannot be restored. Further disruption can affect our roads and buildings. Once there is a landscape declination, caused by ground movements on the surface of the earth, it results in a collapsing overlaying sheet.


Mining affects water

It’s a no-brainer that mining activities affect our water, as surface and groundwater supplies are struggling to support human consumption. There are so many elements that contaminate our water, for example, metal pollutants such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel, lead and mercury, increased sediment levels in streams and acid mine drainage.

Not to mention the water wastage. These activities cause unnaturally high concentrations of chemicals such as mercury, arsenic and sulfuric acid over a significant area surrounding the mine, which means that water cannot be consumed. Once water is polluted, it affects plants, tailing ponds, underground mines, waste-disposal areas, active or abandoned surface or haulage roads. Siltification also affects irrigation, local dams and the ocean, fisheries, domestic water supply, and other areas.

The acid rock drainage and the transportation of heavy metals influence groundwater and pollute surface level water. When looking to protect the water around your mine, the process of bioleaching is the best option. This is done through non-toxic extractions. If the mining site is already contaminated, then mitigation techniques such as acid mine drainage (AMD) is performed. Both can help turn mine water to potable water, resulting in fresh drinkable water for commercial use, households and animals.

There are five main techniques used in the monitoring and controlling of water flow at mining sites. These techniques include subsurface drainage systems, groundwater pumping systems, diversion systems, subsurface barriers and contamination ponds. When the process of AMD is used, the contaminated water is pumped into a facility for treatment that eventually neutralises the contaminants and can be used again.


Mining affects biodiversity

The mining industry has a significant impact on biodiversity, caused by the destruction or drastic modification of the pre-mined landscape in a particular area. It leads to massive habitat loss, which further affects microorganisms, vegetation and animals. The effects of these activities are determined by the level of concentration, extent, and the nature of the contaminant. Temperature modifications can disrupt the livelihood of the communities that live in proximity to the site.

While some species are resistant to environmental disturbances, there are specific animals and endemic plants that are highly sensitive and require specific environmental conditions to survive. Just the slightest disruption on their habitats can result in extinction. Aquatic organisms are also affected by the industry.


In conclusion

The economic benefits generated by the mining industry cannot be ignored, but the environmental and health impacts that go hand-in-hand with this cannot continue either. Our need for natural resources is only increasing and depending on the type of mining, these resources are only becoming more contaminated by the day. In order to make mining more environmentally sustainable, mine workers will need to maximise modern technology to help reduce environmental impacts.


Another way to limit environmental impact is for workers to develop and integrate practices into their operations that help to minimise land disturbances and waste production, which will, hopefully, reduce the negative impact that comes along with that. Individuals can also adopt a recycling mindset where they recycle waste materials to reduce the demand for unnecessary minerals and metals.

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