Mining is generally very destructive to the environment. The extraction of metals is a violent process which inevitably has a great impact on the environment. It involves the following:
i. It is one of the main causes of deforestation. In order to mine, trees and vegetation are cleared and burned. With the ground completely bare, mining operations use huge bulldozers and excavators to extract the metals and minerals from the soil;
ii. Stripping of large areas of topsoil and of all flora and fauna in addition to man-made constructions;
Image Source: panamericanworld.com
iii. Underground coal mining can require the removal of almost an entire layer of material deep under the surface. When the timber supports collapse, this can lead to subsidence. The subsidence can mean economic loss to people above or damage to natural areas. It can even cause cracks in river beds, leading to loss of river flow.
iv. Digging up chemically-reactive minerals which are harmless when underground, but when extracted react spontaneously with oxygen and water. The extraction of sulphide ores ineviatably produces sulphric acids and metal ions.
This emission known as ‘acid mine drainage’, occurs in active mines and in places where waist is stored, and remains a risk even after the mine has closed, sometimes even centuries after the closure of a mine.
v. Adding potentially toxic chemicals, such as cyanide, to the ore to extract the metal, which increases the toxicity level of the waste.
vi. Using large amounts of energy and water, which are often scarce;
vii. Conflicts over resources. Mining usually involves the destruction of resources which people rely on such as agricultural land, drinking or fishing waters, hunting grounds, religious or recreational areas as well as even their homes themselves. If these people are not involved in the decision-making process and/or if they do not benefit from the mine, a conflict will arise.
viii. Many mine require tailings dams to prevent waste being washed into the rivers. Unethical miners can dispense with the dams, to save costs, resulting in massive pollution downstream. In other cases, the tailings dam can overflow, and even breach, during periods of heavy rain.
ix. Some mining involves the inadvertent dispersal of heavy metals, such as lead, into the atmosphere. This can have serious health effects, including mental retardation in children.
x. Asbestos mining causes the dispersal of asbestos into the environment. This will cause deaths among local residents and workers, often several decades later. Fortunately, the mining and use of asbestos are banned in most parts of the world.
xi. Environmental issues can include erosion, formation of sinkholes and loss of biodiversity.
xii. Mining can have adverse effects on surrounding surface and ground water if protection measures are not exercised. The result can be unnaturally high concentrations of some chemical elements, notably arsenic and sulfuric acid, over a significantly large area of surface or sub-surface.
Coal mining releases approximately twenty toxic chemicals, of which 85% is said to be managed on site. Combined with the effects of water and the new ‘channels’ created for water to travel through, collect in, and contact with these chemicals, a situation is created in which massive contamination can occur.
In order to amalgamate (cluster) the extractions, they use chemicals such as cyanide, mercury, or methylmercury. These chemicals go through tailings (pipes) and are often discharged into rivers, streams, bays, and oceans. This pollution contaminates all living organisms within the body of water and ultimately the people who depend on the fish for their main source of protein and their economic livelihood.