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How Mining Can Damage The Environment

By Author: Howard Smith
Total Articles: 49

There are sectors where workers face various types of risks on a daily basis compared to others. These include the health (isn’t it ironic that jobs that are supposed to make people healthy can be potentially hazardous?), construction, and mining sectors. The latter, of course, is an industry where workers can face danger every step of the way. However, it’s not only the human toll that is the concern for this industry, it’s also the impact it has on the environment.

Unregulated mining can pave the way for the release of harmful substances into the soil, air, and water. This is why systems are now in place to reduce the negative impact of mining, like using cutting-edge technologies to minimize the damage from mining-related sources.

Here are some of the environmental damages of mining:

Open Pit Mining

As the term suggests, open pit mining is where materials are excavated from an open pit. With this type of mining, there’s a lot of excavation that’s done since the strategic minerals that are being mined are usually available only in small concentrations, which increases the amount of ore to be mined. This type differs from extractive methods that require tunnelling into the subterranean earth. When rocks that have been unexposed for geologic eras are crushed, they expose radioactive elements, metallic dust, and asbestos-like minerals.

Underground Mining

This type of mining actually refers to various underground mining techniques to dig up hard minerals, especially those containing metals such ore. To access underground ore, miners use a decline (or a ramp), an inclined vertical shaft or an adit (which is horizontal or nearly horizontal). Since this technique requires digging tunnels into the earth, there’s the potential of tunnel collapses and land subsidence. The latter can lead to many problems, which include changes in elevation, damage to structures (like sanitary sewers, levees and bridges), and even causing an increase in flooding potential.

In Situ Leach (ISL)

Also called solution mining, ISL is a mining process used for recovering minerals like copper and uranium. This is done by using boreholes to drill into a deposit in situ (‘in situ’ means being in its natural or original position). Compared to conventional mining techniques, ISL leaves minimal surface disturbance and no tailings or waste rock. However, the strong acids that are used in dissolving the ore body can be detrimental to the health of both the ecosystem where the mining activity is done and human population. Even after rehabilitation treatments are done post-mining, there are still remaining contaminants like radium that cannot be controlled.

Heap Leaching

This industrial mining process is utilized to extract precious metals like copper and uranium via a series of chemical reactions that absorb specific minerals and separating them from other earth minerals. This technique can release toxic heap leaching fluids into the environment, which can affect the health of the people in the area where the mining activity is undertaken, as well the health of the ecosystem around it.

These are some of the major tolls on the environment and on people that certain mining techniques can take. Certainly, all efforts are being exerted by mining operators to make sure that these damages are minimized. (For more topics on mine and mining, you can check MiningIQ.)

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