How Does Gold Mining Affect the Environment?

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Gold mining affects the environment in many negative ways, including the release of large amounts of exhaust from heavy equipment and transport, toxic drainage into nearby waterways and the release of mercury fumes from ore processing. Gold is most commonly mined in open pits dug specifically for that purpose. Even in the richest of mines, the gold content is a tiny fraction of the material dug up.

Gold mining creates large amounts of waste rock, more than almost any other type of mining. This is because of the relative rarity of gold, with almost all large deposits easily obtained near the surface having already been extracted. The rocks in which gold is found tend to be high in sulfur compounds, and when exposed to air and water via the digging of large pits, these rocks easily leach toxic chemicals into the environment, according to The Washington Post. In addition, some mining operations use cyanide compounds to help process ore, which leak and even spill into the environment.

The quantities of waste rock produced by these mines must be transported away, requiring a great deal of fossil fuel consumption and emissions. The leftovers of this waste, once processed, are full of toxic metals that never biodegrade, creating permanent toxic hazards at disposal sites.