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Saturdays with Shavara

Saturdays with Shavara

Mining’s Environmental Footprint

Wishing you all a glorious Saturday! I’ve stumbled across the topic of mining, which may be a topic I knew the least about before researching for this post. When it comes to human activities that negatively impacts the environment, mining is sometimes completely ignored, however the environmental footprint that mining carries is something we must give more of our attention to. Globally mining contributes to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, and contamination of surface and ground water.

Beyond the environmental damage that mining causes, there is also the human health impact to both miners and the residents that live near mines. Underground mining is the only way certain metals can be extracted from the earth, but this form of mining requires miners to spend long periods of time underground, which can cause black lung disease in 10-21% of coal miners. The EPA found during randomized inspections that water and air quality permits for mine operations have been frequently violated by polluting the air or water on some level. There are actually 78 mines or mining facilities that are so toxic that the EPA has had to designate them as federal superfund sites.

Mining is a huge contributor to habitat fragmentation, which is defined by conservation biologist, Lenore Fahrig; as the process during which a large expanse of habitat is transformed into a number of smaller patches of smaller total area isolated from each other by a matrix of habitats unlike the original. Speaking in layman’s terms mines don’t just pop up out of nowhere there is the exploration of the site, construction to get it up and running and then the day-to-day operation, which all cause changes to the natural land and surrounding area. The entire process of creating an operational mine is what leads to habitat fragmentation and the resulting effects of a loss of biodiversity and deforestation. Mining for the various metals and coal can also release toxic minerals and heavy metals (that would otherwise remain underground) into our soil and nearby bodies of water… talk about contamination overload. 

I want to mention another unintentional, yet detrimental effect of mining which is coal seam fires. These fires are often ignited during the process of mining, or other forms of human activity that take place too close to large deposits of coal. These fires range somewhere in the hundreds and can burn for decades once started. Coal seam fires go on to cause toxic levels of arsenic and mercury to be emitted into the air leading the areas nearby to become all but inhabitable.

Mining isn’t something that may be going away within our lifetime, but “green” mining is starting to look like one alternative. Green mining is method of mining that has a lower impact on the environment such as in-situ leaching, which reduces soil erosion and surface disturbances around mining sites. Rehabilitating old mining sites is another way to lower the environmental impact by replenishing the soil with a component that will promote vegetation and using waste rocks to fill in excavated areas. The rehabilitation allows for that land to once more support plant and animal life. By understanding the impacts of mining more people can advocate for the prevention of illegal or unregulated mining operations where there is no assurance that the mine is operating on the same environmental standards that legal mine facilities are. 

As more people advocate for better mining practices companies will be forced to address advancement in land rehabilitation techniques, implementation of low-impact mining methods, while reusing more of the mine waste generated. We as a society have the power to cut back on the impact that mining operations have on the immediate environment, by remaining informed and continuing to be responsible consumers. I will leave you here to enjoy the rest of your Saturday, where I hope you will look with fresh eyes at what in your life can be Reduced, Reused and Recycled, because let’s face it mining for natural resources is a top industry, because our rate of consumption makes it one. Until next time green folks! 

KOB’s very own Content Writer,

Shavara J.

Resources:

www.empoweringpumps.com

www.wman-info.org

www.environment.co.za

www.environmentalevidencejournal.biomedcentral.com

www.link.springer.com

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