How Does Mining Affect the Environment?

Mining affects the environment by exposing radioactive elements, removing topsoil, increasing the risk of contamination of nearby ground and surface water sources, and acidification of the surrounding environment. Other effects include the disruption of existing ecosystems, damaging landscapes by creating erosion and depletion of surrounding freshwater sources.

The formation of acid mine drainage is the result of soil and rock exposed to coal, metal ores or nonmetallic ores and waste rock to air and water. These waste rocks often contain sulfide minerals that oxidize and release iron and sulfate into solution. Acid mine drainage affects surface and groundwater, and leachate from mine openings, seepage and surface water runoff from piles and waste rock cause this contamination.

Mining affects and disrupts aquatic habitats, terrestrial habitats and wetlands that contain diverse ecosystems and organisms that rely on these areas for survival. A mine’s large consumption and release of water, manipulation of topography and landscape, as well as the release of particulates and chemicals impact various habitats directly and indirectly. Mining is dependent on fossil fuels, which are nonrenewable, to generate the energy needed for its operations. Dust released during the break up of materials causes lung problems and poses health risks for miners and people that live in the surrounding area.