Long and Shortterm Impacts of Mining in the Environment

On a long-term basis, mining can increase the acidity of water in streams; cause increased sediment loads, some of which may be metal-laden, in drainage basins; initiate dust with windborne pathogens; and cause the release of toxic chemicals, some contained in exposed ore bodies and waste rock piles and some derived from ore-processing reactions. Contaminants containing such toxic chemicals as cyanide and lead may be transported far from a mining site by water or wind, polluting soils, groundwater, rivers, and the atmosphere. These toxic chemicals can be remobilized intermittently (e.g., by intense wind or rainstorms) and eventually distributed over vast regions. Some of this contamination, because of its scale or intensity, may not be amenable to remediation.

Mining may also have effects that can be short-term, depending on their severity, such as distortion to the surrounding topography or removal of vegetation. In many cases, these effects may be minimized or even prevented by means of a comprehensive mining plan that includes a reclamation and remediation stage. For example, in 1999 the Ruby Hill Mine, an open-pit gold mine located near Eureka, Nevada, received an "Excellence in Mine Reclamation Award," which is granted jointly by various state and federal mining and environmental bodies. Since its inception, the mine has exhibited outstanding innovation in its design, mitigation, and reclamation, all of which is the basis of the award. One of the techniques employed by the mine is concurrent reclamation practice. Since initial exploration, disturbed areas are continuously relegated to facilitate erosion control and provide improved esthetical value. In addition, one mitigation measure that was cited is the effort to offset potential impacts to local wildlife by constructing nesting structures for bats and hawks. As of 2002, the mine was still in operation.

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