How mineral extraction affects the environment

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Since the beginning of civilization, human beings have used different materials such as stones or metals obtained from the surface of the Earth to satisfy their different needs. Although this does not have much to do with current modern mining, we could consider this fact as its oldest origins, in the sense that human beings have always exploited the environment in which they live for their survival or improvement of life.

But, how mineral extraction affects the environment? In this Green Ecologist article, we ask you this question and give you the answer, mainly commenting on the negative consequences of this activity, among other aspects.

Evolution from ancient mining to modern mining

Over time, mining evolved from the oldest known, dated approximately 43,000 years ago (Lion Caves in Swaziland), through mining in ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome. However, modern mining with its large exploitations emerged during the last three centuries (19th, 20th and 21st centuries) when the population and industrial growth of the planet increased exponentially and, with it, the needs of the population.

These needs include a greater demand for raw materials for construction, industry or energy, which in many cases are obtained from onshore deposits. However, the increasingly uncontrolled exploitation of our natural resources carries with it a series of problems. A) Yes, modern mining also has negative consequences for our planet.

Negative consequences of mineral extraction for the environment

Some negative consequences of modern mining for the environment, which turn out to be the most important, are the following:

  • Changes in the morphology of the terrain: the extraction of minerals on the surface of the earth leads to large excavations. In addition, large areas of land are deforested, resulting in loss of soil due to erosion, loss of habitats for many forms of life, loss of biodiversity or alteration of some biogeochemical cycles such as water.
  • Air pollution: Mineral extractions release dust and other toxic gases into the environment, originating from explosions that break up rocks. These gases can cause serious respiratory problems for humans and animals that inhabit nearby areas. In addition, they are gases that can rise into the atmosphere and cause the greenhouse effect, contributing to climate change and its terrible consequences.
  • Pollution to surface waters: Sometimes the chemical materials that are used or released during the extractions are not treated correctly and can accidentally leak into surface waters, contaminating them and causing serious damage to their fauna and flora such as their loss. Animals, in many cases, that feed by filtration, so that the toxic compounds can pass through the trophic chains.
  • Groundwater pollution: Mine waste is usually washed by rainwater and is sometimes carried and filtered into groundwater reservoirs, contaminating them.
  • Damage to flora and fauna: damage that occurs as a result of the above points. The number of species is diminished, they are displaced from their habitat, and so on.

The type of mine affects the environment differently

The negative impacts of mineral extraction on the environment, they also depend to a large extent on the type of mining, fundamentally distinguishing two types of mines: underground mines and open pit mines.

The environmental impact of underground mines

They are excavated as interconnected galleries under the ground, using explosives. In general, the environmental impact of this type of mines is less, since the changes in the land surface are minor, although water and aquifer contamination also occurs. These types of mines are progressively being replaced by more efficient methods.

What is the environmental impact of open pit mining

They currently represent the vast majority of mining operations. Its environmental impact is much greater than the previous ones, since it influences the environment more, causing deforestation, greater loss of habitats or water pollution. They differ in open-pit mines themselves, quarries (dangerous due to their greater proximity to urban areas and give rise to urban landfills) and leaching mining, which uses chemical products to wash (leach) the minerals to be extracted, causing great pollution to the waters.

Example of how mineral extraction affects the environment

This is an example that we can find in Spain. An interesting area has been the Leonese town of Laciana. It represents an area of valleys with a great richness in biodiversity, with declared areas of community interest (SCI), special protection for birds (ZEPA) or UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. In this valley, they have proliferated, in recent years, large number of mining operations, many of them undeclared, currently leaving a land totally depleted, that is, totally exhausted by having it over-exploited, and contaminated.

If you want to read more articles similar to How mineral extraction affects the environment, we recommend that you enter our category of Other environment.

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