Top 5 Facts About Mine Waste
Alteration of Landscapes
Emission of Toxic Radioactive Elements
Mining Waste Affects Natural Environment
Loss of Biodiversity
Mining Waste; A Health Hazard
Top 5 Bad Facts About Mine Waste
Waste management is a global challenge nowadays. Industries are the largest producers of waste. From textile to fertilizers and pesticides, industries produced a large fraction of waste. It has been estimated that each year the world produced more than 2 billion of waste -commercial, residential, and institutional. The mineral industry is the largest producer of global waste. Mining waste is the most hazardous waste, but its management receives inadequate attention. Following are some terrible facts about mining waste. Before that, let’s learn what mining waste is and how it’s generated.
Mining waste includes topsoil overburden (that is removed to access mineral resources), hard rocks, and tailing (after extracting minerals). Generally, for the production of ores, two types of mining waste are produced:
- Sandy material,
- Chemical residual.
Solid materials such as rocks and soil are disposed of in dumpsites. The type of waste produced from mining depends on which material is being extracted and which employed technology. Mining waste generates from extracting and processing minerals. According to the Mining, Minerals, and Sustainable Development Project (MMSD), the solid waste from mineral and metal commodities is 100 billion tons each year.
The mining of materials from the Earth has potentially bad impacts on human health and the environment.
Alteration of Landscapes:
Large-scale mining has prolonged impacts. It alters the whole landscape by removing hundreds and thousands of rocky materials each year. Moreover, it modifies the ecosystem and topography of the entire area. Do you love to visit your favourite place where mining activity has occurred? Absolutely NO. Because mining replaces the dynamic equilibrium of a landscape. The mining waste degrades the functionality, aesthetic value, and recreational potential of a landscape.
Emission of Toxic Radioactive Elements:
Mine waste management is a significant challenge around the world. Since there is little to no management system of mining waste, it is mainly left untouched after processing. The leftover contains toxic radioactive materials that damage the surroundings.
The mining of Lithium in Chile destroys the natural water system. In Madagascar, a metal mining sector is linked to the destruction of natural lemur habitats. Uranium is a radioactive element that is found naturally in the air. However, its concentration is increasing due to milling and mining processes. Exposure to high concentrations of this radioactive element causes lung cancer in the human population.
Mining Waste Affects Natural Environment:
Environmental impacts from waste disposal at mining sites are divided into two categories; loss of land by converting the productive land into waste disposal site and contamination into the surrounding area. A large portion of mining waste is dust, soil and chemicals. The particles enter the air, where they persist for a long time. These particles come down with rainwater and make it acidic. Acid rain affects the growth of plants. While entering water bodies, mining waste affects the aquatic ecosystem by disturbing the food chain. Not to speak of this, mining waste leaches down and contaminates the groundwater. Seasonal assessment of groundwater contamination near coal mining sites in Asia (Pakistan) has shown that all water quality parameters were crossing the WHO limits. So, mining waste contaminates the natural environment in various ways.
Loss of Biodiversity:
Mining affects socio-biodiversity by emitting carbon. The clearing of forests responsible for food and raw materials impacts people and the local climate. Niobium reserves in Brazil could be quarried to build electrolytic capacitors for smartphones. For getting these minerals, the forest land is cleared that could have significant impacts on communities. The whole natural ecosystem will be disturbed as a result. Steel-making in Brazil causes habitat loss in sourcing the resources.
Mine waste management is also a destructive process. It changes the biotic and abiotic conditions. In some cases, it causes the decline of rare and threatened species. Sediments exported from Peru along the connecting river in Brazil leave only tolerant species in the water body.
Mining Waste; A Health Hazard
Almost every person in the world has a cell phone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger. Although primarily made of glass, good, and copper, electronics are also made of specific hazardous materials such as gallium and indium. Mining of these raw materials poses severe impacts on health.
Mineral waste affects human health in different ways. Mine tailings are the most significant artificial structures in the world. Tailing failure accounts for major mine-related disasters. A recent catastrophic event occurred in Brazil in the year 2019 that killed at least 206 people. Not only tailings but waste rocks also affect the health badly. Waste rocks cover a range from large rocks to fine particles. Inhalation of these particles block air and increase the burden of respiratory diseases.
Some toxic elements found in the mining environment are arsenic, Cyanide, cadmium, lead, and mercury. All these elements are potentially harmful that can lead to death. Cadmium is a human carcinogen and the top 7th poison element declared by the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Lead accumulation in the body affects the individual and developing fetus in child-bearing women. So mine waste, if not properly managed, could chase a person till death. A frequent by-product of mining is acid drainage that causes severe lung damage and chemical burns to workers who handle the waste.
Re-Thinking Mining Waste:
The global mining industry is growing exponentially, producing waste at the same rate. Although the mineral industry is essential for economic development, there must be ways to reuse or recycle waste. Recycling and reusing options for mining waste have their cons as well. So, globally harmonized initiatives could help for sustainable management of mine waste.
A large fraction of global solid waste is mine waste. It affects the environment by losing its habitat and changing its biodiversity. Furthermore, it alters the whole equilibrium of the natural ecosystem that could contribute to anthropogenic climate change. There is a dire need to address the public health and ecological damage due to mining and its waste. An optimal scenario for mining waste management could deliver sustainable societal benefits.
- Mining and Biodiversity: Key Issues and Research Need in Conservation Science
Available at: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2018.1926
- Mining Waste Challenges: Environmental Risks of Gigatons of Mud, Dust and Sediment in Megadiverse Regions in Brazil
- Re-Thinking Mining Waste Through an Integrative Approach Led by Circular Economy Aspirations
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