Impacts of Copper Mining on Environment
Updated: Jun 24, 2021
Since the beginning of civilizations, copper has been an essential metal. It has maintained its importance even today because of its ductility and conductivity. However, with the population growth, the demand for metal also increased, which led to mining at a huge level. There are multi-billion dollar industries such as solaris resources focused on copper mining.
Along with all the needs it has fulfilled and the great opportunities this industry has created, it has contributed a lot towards the degradation of the atmosphere. Canada is one of the major copper mining countries, and the pollution caused by acidic drainage and waste rock is severe. However, that is not all that copper mines are capable of causing. Given below are five impacts that copper mining has on the environment:
1. Health Risks- The health risks from copper mining are extreme. One of the waste products is sulphuric acid and other chemical toxins, which can make the water and air poisonous to drink and breathe, respectively. The metal particles in the air can cause lung diseases and harm skin and eyes. Mining leads to infertility of the land nearby, rendering it inhabitable for humans as well as animals.
2. Air Pollution- Sulphuric acid is used for extraction and refining of copper, and the acidic fumes, when mixed with water vapor, resulting in acid rain. There are several other pollutants such as oxides and nitrates of various metals along with respirable dust, which can cause substantial damage to the lungs. These pollutants form a dense cloud and make the air unbreathable.
3. Degradation of Water resources- Tailings formed from copper mines are known to degrade water to such an extent that it changes colors and becomes extremely acidic. Additionally, the spent electrolyte and leaching solution is also discharged into water bodies, leading to the mass murder of aquatic life. It upsets the ecosystem of the area.
4. Waste Rock- When the copper ore is mined, the waste rock is dumped in huge piles along with the spent ore from the heap, dump, and vat leaching. These piles contain sulfide minerals in the form of pyrite and pyrrhotite, which can oxidize and make sulphuric acid and several other toxic wastes. These toxins exhaust the fertility of the land and kill the flora and fauna of the region.
5. Sludge- The semisolid waste products from mining, including soft mud, slush, slime, etc., that settles in tanks are hard to get rid of. In the copper mining process, this sludge is called gunk. This sludge is mostly treated before being released into the environment. If untreated sludge is discharged in water or dumps, the toxins seep into the underground water and disturb the water table.
Copper mining is a hazardous industry, which is why the areas around copper fields are uninhabited. However, since copper has various uses, wires, and utensils being the most prominent, copper mining cannot be stopped. The governments and copper mining companies have formed policies to reduce the impacts of mining on the environment.