The threats of the mining sector
Water management and pollution
Mining and mineral processing require large volumes of ground- and/or surface water.
This demand can have negative impacts on regional freshwater systems and watersheds:
- Depletion of water resources
- Degradation of water quality: due to chemicals or mining waste
- Changes in groundwater patterns and river systems.
When tailings from mining are released into water following processing, a high sediment load is added to the water and can have the following harmful consequences: loss of vegetation and animal species sensitive to the reduction in available light, accelerated erosion, changes to the water course, nutrient balance and fish migration patterns, reduction in fishery resources, disappearance of wetlands.
Finally, a phenomenon of acidic water can occur due to sulphuric acid being produced by the contact of certain minerals with air. This contributes locally to the global phenomenon of freshwater acidification.
Neighbouring communities suffer the consequences as they depend on the same rivers and aquifers for washing, drinking water, cooking and agricultural needs.
Soil pollution and land degradation
Tailings and by-products of mining operations accumulate and, depending on the extraction process, may contain acidic compounds, heavy metals etc., which will generally render the land unsuitable for any future use. As well as contaminating water courses, these waste products can seep into the soil and thus seriously pollute the environment.
The loss of forest cover also leads to land degradation, increased storm water runoff, loss of fertility and soil erosion.
Mining operations affect air quality through the accumulation of toxic elements. These pollutants can affect the health of people living near the mine site. Respiratory diseases and allergies can be triggered by inhalation of the airborne particles.
Increased pressure on the surrounding forests
In both its industrial and artisanal forms, mining inevitably attracts an influx of people (workers, their families as well as a whole economic sector that develops around the sector), increasing pressures on the surrounding forest resources both of wood (firewood) and non-wood (bushmeat, fish, etc.) origin.
Mining and climate change
The mining sector is responsible for a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the loss of forest cover, the main sources of GHG emissions are energy requirements, transport, some mineral processing and waste management.