Negative environmental impact of using mineral resources
Mineral resources are naturally occurring concentrations of solid homogeneous inorganic substances that occur in nature and have precise chemical compositions. Mankind has done a great deal in developing the technical know-how to investigate, locate and extract more than a hundred minerals from the Earth’s crust.
On the other hand, the mining, processing and production of items, tools and equipment from mineral resources has left open wounds on the environment’s land, air and water resources.
Two major types (broad categories) of minerals
The two major types of minerals that exist are metallic minerals and non-metallic minerals. Examples of metallic minerals include gold, iron, copper, and aluminium, while examples of non-metallic minerals include limestone, gravel, sand, and phosphate salts.
Minerals and rocks are called “non-renewable resources” because it takes a very long time for them to be reproduced by nature or natural processes.
Negative impact of mineral resources on environment
Although metals can be used to produce many useful products, the processes of mining and recycling take up a lot of energy, produce a lot of solid wastes, and also pollute the surrounding air, water and land (soil) environments.
Many studies conducted by scientists warn that one of the greatest threats to environmental health is the negative impact caused by industrial processes which include extraction, mining, and product conversions.
If mankind is not careful, the cost of manufacturing and production will exceed the value that mankind derives from finished products of mining, manufacturing and production.
The degree of environmental impact of mining a mineral or ore depends on the grade or mineral content of a particular mineral or ore. Usually, higher-grade minerals are the first to be sought for, located and used.
As higher-grade minerals become depleted, lower-grade ones become the next valuable mineral resource to be sought for. But the problem associated with lower-grade minerals is that the process of mining them takes up a lot of energy, water, money, and other minerals.
In addition, the process is known to increase mining and solid wastes, land degradation, and land, water and air pollution.
In the pursuit and acquisition of minerals, mining can cause long-term harm to an environment because it is widely known to disfigure and disrupt environments by scarring and disrupting their land surfaces.
Whenever minerals are removed from mountaintops by great machines, dirt and waste rocks usually destroy surrounding forests, cover up mountain streams at the base of mountains, and also increase flood hazards.
Nearby communities are not safe when it comes to mining: they find it hard to breathe pure natural air. Many communities have been economically and environmentally damaged as a result of mineral exploration and mountaintop removal.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hundreds of mountaintops have been removed in the U.S.A in order to extract coal; this has degraded the surrounding environment by polluting and burying about 1,900 kilometers length of streams.
In tropical areas like tropical forests, surface mining degrades or destroys important biodiversity that keeps many forms of life, and the environment balanced.
Degradation or destruction of biodiversity occurs when forests are cut down and rivers become polluted with wastes produced from mining activities.
Sub-surface mining causes lands, houses and sewer lines to collapse above some underground mines; also, it creates hazards such as explosions, fires, and cave-ins, and causes diseases such as black lung.
In addition, water runoff from mining processes usually contains pollutants such as mercury, arsenic and sulfuric acid which contaminate surrounding fresh water supplies and aquatic life used as food.