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Mining and Its Impact on the Environment Essay

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Updated: Jul 9th, 2021

Introduction

Mining is an economic activity capable of supporting the developmental goals of countries and societies. It also ensures that different metals, petroleum, and coal are available to different consumers or companies. Unfortunately, this practice entails excavation or substantial interference of the natural environment. The negative impacts of mining can be recorded at the global, regional, and local levels. A proper understanding of such implications can make it possible for policymakers and corporations to implement appropriate measures. The purpose of this paper is to describe and discuss the effects of mining on the environment.

Effects of Mining on the Environment

Ways Mining Impact on the Environment

Miners use different methods to extract various compounds depending on where they are found. The first common procedure is open cast, whereby people scrap away rocks and other materials on the earth’s surface to expose the targeted products. The second method is underground mining, and it allows workers to get deeper materials and deposits. Both procedures are subdivided further depending on the nature of the targeted minerals and the available resources (Minerals Council of Australia 2019). Despite their striking differences in procedures, the common denominator is that they both tend to have negative impacts on the natural environment.

Firstly, surface mining usually requires that machines and individuals clear forests and vegetation cover. This means that the integrity of the natural land will be obliterated within a short period. Permanent scars will always be left due to this kind of mining. Secondly, the affected land will be exposed to the problem of soil erosion because the topmost soil is loosened. This problem results in flooding, contamination of the following water in rivers, and sedimentation of dams. Thirdly, any form of mining is capable of causing both noise and air pollution (Minerals Council of Australia 2019). The use of heavy machines and blasts explains why this is the case.

Fourthly, other forms of mining result in increased volumes of rocks and soil that are brought to the earth’s surface. Some of them tend to be toxic and capable of polluting water and air. Fifthly, underground mines tend to result in subsidence after collapsing. This means that forests and other materials covering the earth’s surface will be affected. Sixthly, different firms of mining are known to reduce the natural water table. For example, around 500,000,000 cubic meters of water tend to be pumped out of underground mines in Germany annually (Mensah et al., 2015). This is also the same case in other countries across the globe. Seventhly, different mining activities have been observed to produce dangerous greenhouse gases that continue to trigger new problems, including climate change and global warming.

Remediating Mine Sites

The problem of mining by the fact that many people or companies will tend to abandon their sites after the existing minerals are depleted. This malpractice is usually common since it is costly to clean up such areas and minimize their negative impacts on the natural environment. The first strategy for remediating mine sites is that of reclamation. This method entails the removal of both environmental and physical hazards in the region (Motoori, McLellan & Tezuka 2018). This will then be followed by planting diverse plant species. The second approach is the installation of soil cover. When pursuing this method, participants and companies should mimic the original natural setting and consider the drainage patterns. They can also consider the possible or expected land reuse choices.

The third remediation strategy for mine sites entails the use of treatment systems. This method is essential when the identified area is contaminated with metals and acidic materials that pose significant health risks to human beings and aquatic life (Mensah et al., 2015). Those involved can consider the need to construct dams and contain such water. Finally, mining companies can implement powerful cleanup processes and reuse or restore the affected sites. The ultimate objective is to ensure that every ugly site is improved and designed in such a way that it reduces its potential implications on the natural environment. From this analysis, it is evident that the nature of the mining method, the topography of the site, and the anticipated future uses of the region can inform the most appropriate remediation approach. Additionally, the selected method should address the negative impacts on the environment and promote sustainability.

Lessening Impact

Mining is a common practice that continues to meet the demands of the current global economy. With its negative implications, companies and other key stakeholders can identify various initiatives that will minimize every anticipated negative impact. Motoori, McLellan, and Tezuka (2018) encourage mining corporations to diversify their models and consider the importance of recycling existing materials or metals. This approach is sustainable and capable of reducing the dangers of mining. Governments can also formulate and implement powerful policies that compel different companies to engage in desirable practices, minimize pollution, and reduce noise pollution. Such guidelines will make sure that every company remains responsible for remediating their sites. Mensah et al. 2015) also support the introduction of laws that compel organizations to conduct environmental impact assessment analyses before starting their activities. This model will encourage them to identify regions or sites that will have minimal effects on the surrounding population or aquatic life. The concept of green mining has emerged as a powerful technology that is capable of lessening the negative implications of mining. This means that all activities will be sustainable and eventually meet the diverse needs of all stakeholders, including community members. Finally, new laws are essential to compelling companies to shut down and reclaim sites that are no longer in use.

Copper Mining

Extraction from the Ore Body

Copper mining is a complex process since it is found in more stable forms, such as oxide and sulfide ores. These elements are obtained after the overburden has been removed. Corporations complete a 3-step process or procedure before obtaining pure copper. This is usually called ore concentration, and it follows these stages: froth flotation, roasting, and leaching (Sikamo, Mwanza & Mweemba 201). During froth flotation, sulfide ores are crushed to form small particles and then mixed with large quantities of water. Ionic collectors are introduced to ensure that CuS becomes hydrophobic in nature. The introduction of frothing agent results in the agitation and aeration of the slurry (Sikamo, Mwanza & Mweemba 2016). This means that the ore containing copper will float to the surface. All tailings will sink to the bottom of the solution. The refined material can then be skimmed and removed.

The next stage is that of roasting, whereby the collected copper is baked. The purpose of this activity is to minimize the quantities of sulfur. Such a procedure results in sulfur dioxide, As, and Sb (Yaras & Arslanoglu 2017). This leaves a fine mixture of copper and other impurities. The next phase of the ore concentration method is that of leaching. Different Compounds are used to solubilize the compound, such as H2SO4 and HCI. The leachate will then be deposited at the bottom and purified.

Smelting is the second stage that experts use to remove copper from its original ore. This approach produces iron and copper sulfides. Exothermic processes are completed to remove SiO2 and FeSiO3 slag (Yaras & Arslanoglu 2017). According to this equation, oxygen is introduced to produce pure copper and sulfur dioxide:

CuO + CuS = Cu(s) + SO2

The final phase is called refinement. The collected Cu is used as anodes and cathodes, whereby they are immersed in H2SO4 and CuSO4. During this process, copper will be deposited on the cathode while the anode will dissolve in the compound. All impurities will settle at the bottom (Sikamo, Mwanza & Mweemba 2016). From this analysis, it is notable that a simple process is considered to collect pure copper from its ore body.

How Copper Mining Impacts the Environment

Copper mining is a complex procedure that requires the completion of several steps if a pure metallic compound is to be obtained. This means that it is capable of presenting complicated impacts on the natural environment. Copper mining can take different forms depending on the location of the identified ores and the policies put in place in the selected country (Yaras & Arslanoglu 2017). Nonetheless, the entire process will have detrimental effects on the surrounding environment. Due to the intensity of operations and involvement of heavy machinery, this process results in land degradation. The affected regions will have huge mine sites that disorient the original integrity of the environment.

Since copper is one of the most valuable metals in the world today due to its key uses, many companies continue to mine it in different countries. This practice has triggered the predicament of deforestation (Sikamo, Mwanza & Mweemba 2016). Additionally, rainwater collects in abandoned mine sites or existing ones, thereby leaking into nearby rivers, boreholes, or aquifers. This means that more people are at risk of being poisoned by this compound.

Air pollution is another common problem that individuals living near copper mines report frequently. This challenge is attributable to the use of heavy blasting materials and machinery. The dust usually contains hazardous chemicals that have negative health impacts on communities and animals. Some of the common ailments observed in most of the affected regions include asthma, silicosis, and tuberculosis (Mensah et al., 2015). This challenge arises from the toxic nature of high levels of copper. These problems explain why companies and stakeholders in the mining industry should implement superior appropriate measures and strategies to overcome them. Such a practice will ensure that they meet the needs of the affected individuals and make it easier for them to pursue their aims.

Copper processing can have significant negative implications on the integrity of the environment. For instance, the procedure is capable of producing tailings and overburden that have the potential to contaminate different surroundings. According to Mensah et al. (2015), some residual copper is left in the environment since around 85 percent of the compound is obtained through the refining process. This means that it will pose health problems to people and aquatic life. Other metals are present in the produced tailings, such as iron and molybdenum. During the separation process, hazardous chemicals and gases will be released, such as sulfur dioxide. This is a hazardous compound that is capable of resulting in acidic rain, thereby increasing the chances of environmental degradation.

There are several examples that explain why copper is capable of causing negative impacts on the natural environment. For example, Queenstown in Tasmania has been recording large volumes of acidic rain (Mensah et al., 2015). This is also the same case for El Teniente Mine in Chile. Recycling and reusing copper can be an evidence-based approach for minimizing these consequences and maintaining the integrity of the environment.

Farmlands that are polluted with this metal compound will have far-reaching impacts on both animals and human beings. This is the case since the absorption of copper in the body can have detrimental health outcomes. This form of poisoning can disorient the normal functions of body organs and put the individual at risk of various conditions. People living in areas that are known to produce copper continue to face these negative impacts (Yaras & Arslanoglu 2017). Such challenges explain why a superior model is needed to overcome this problem and ensure that more people lead high-quality lives and eventually achieve their potential.

Conclusion

The above discussion has identified mining as a major economic activity that supports the performance and integrity of many factories, countries, and companies. However, this practice continues to affect the natural environment and making it incapable of supporting future populations. Mining activities result in deforestation, land obliteration, air pollution, acidic rain, and health hazards. The separation of copper from its parent ore is a procedure that has been observed to result in numerous negative impacts on the environment and human beings. These insights should, therefore, become powerful ideas for encouraging governments and policymakers to implement superior guidelines that will ensure that miners minimize these negativities by remediating sites.

Reference List

Mensah, AK, Mahiri, IO, Owusu, O, Mireku, OD, Wireko, I & Kissi, EA 2015, ‘Environmental impacts of mining: a study of mining communities in Ghana’, Applied Ecology and Environmental Sciences, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 81-94.

Minerals Council of Australia 2019,, Web.

Motoori, R, McLellan, BC & Tezuka, T 2018, ‘Environmental implications of resource security strategies for critical minerals: a case study of copper in Japan’, Minerals, vol. 8, no. 12, pp. 558-586.

Sikamo, J, Mwanza, A & Mweemba, C 2016, ‘Copper mining in Zambia – history and future’, The Journal of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, vol. 116, no. 1, pp. 491-496.

Yaras, A & Arslanoglu, H 2017, ‘Leaching behaviour of low-grade copper ore in the presence of organic acid’, Canadian Metallurgical Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 3, pp. 319-327.

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