Mining activities are typically highly water-intensive and require powerful cleaning systems to manage the large number of chemicals that are used. Mining applications in many places have transformed wide rivers into small streams. Chemicals make lakes entirely change colour. Informal extraction causes severe water pollution because treatment of toxic chemicals is entirely unregulated. Many mines also release toxic particulate matter into the air that end up in watercourses.
Water is used throughout the process of extracting minerals. Different types of minerals require different amounts of water.
Source: Pollution to Water
Cyanide emissions pollute groundwater around gold mine in Argentina
Three accidents resulting in the release of a cyanide solution in an 18-month period at the Veladero mine in Argentina. Veladero is one of the country’s largest gold mines and is owned by Canadian mining group Barrick Gold in a joint venture with China’s Shangdong Gold. In the first incident, faulty pipes leaked a million litres of a cyanide solution resulting in the destruction of five different rivers. Local authorities warned inhabitants of three towns close to the mine to avoid drinking water from the nearby river Blanco due to the pollution. The mine was shut down for a month and the company made to pay a fine of USD 9 million. A court later ruled that the third accident could have been avoided if the company had replaced the faulty piping.
In addition to water pollution, the mine is blamed for the depletion of water resources and is believed to accelerate the melting of glaciers due to dust clouds generated during refraction. Local inhabitants have protested about the mine for 17 years and demand its complete closure. They argue that the high levels of heavy metals that the mine has released have severely damaged their health, agricultural land, and livestock.
Water pollution caused by mining in Congo Kinshasa. Photo: Roland Brockmann/MISEREOR
Mining – particularly surface mining and mountain removal mining – frequently causes long-term and sometimes irreversible impact on ecosystems and biodiversity. Erosion and destruction of coral reefs and mango swamps are common. Surface mining also destroys large areas of land. When mines are decommissioned, large holes in the ground remain, and spills involving heavy metals, acids, and toxic chemicals can continue for many years after mining operations have ceased.
Jazmin Romero on the bank of the river Arroyo in Colombia. Villagers protested against the mining company Cerrejón’s plans to re-route the river. Photo: Javier De la Cuadra
The Philippines’ worst mining disaster
Twenty years after a mining accident in which a dam burst on the island of Marinduque in the Philippines, the affected area is still yet to recover. Three to four million tonnes of toxic mine waste from copper extraction was released into a river system causing fish and shellfish in the Boac river to die, as did livestock that drank the water. Marine ecosystems disappeared, as mangroves, seaweed and coral were destroyed and trees along the river died. Following the disaster, villagers were forced to travel many kilometres to collect water.
In the wake of the accident, the government ordered the closure of the mine. Mining company Marcopper was accused of simply stopping operations and abandoning the mine. The company has failed to take responsibility for compensating those affected by the disaster or for rehabilitating the areas that have been destroyed.
“The damage caused by the mining disaster at Marcopper were enormous,” Imelda Diaz, regional environment and natural resources official on Marinduque tells Business Mirror. “It wasn’t just the trees that were destroyed – it was the entire ecosystem. Even the coast and the marine ecosystem was destroyed. The damage caused by the spill are well documented.”
The world’s rainforests are home to around 50 per cent of all land animals and plants. They are also important to mitigate climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and binds it (they function as so-called carbon sinks). Mining, illegal and unsustainable logging, the conversion of forest into agricultural land and large-scale animal husbandry are some of the causes of the destruction of tropical rainforest. Seventeen per cent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in the past 50 years.
Source: FAO, 2016
Tropical forestry is a high-risk sector because logging typically affects individual forests as well as the rights and livelihoods of local and indigenous people in nearby areas. Swedwatch has investigated the effects of activities of logging companies in Cameroon. Forest clearance to make way for rubber plantations of Asian and domestic companies have resulted in villagers being driven from their homes and human rights being abused. Logging conducted by a Dutch and a French company to produce timber affected villagers’ access to water and opportunities to hunt and conduct small-scale farming. Representatives of indigenous people claimed that their ability to support themselves from the forest’s resources had worsened. Logging companies operating in tropical countries are encouraged to carry out risk- and impact analyses in terms of human rights and environmental impact (so-called due diligence). Companies that buy tropical timber are called on to ensure that their suppliers have carried out such analyses.
The local population claims that a key reason for the reduction of animal life are the roads that the logging companies have built that cut through the forest. “Now, poachers can drive into the forest on the new roads without being seen, and they hire local hunters and give them weapons to hunt the wild animals,” a villager tells Swedwatch.
The indigenous Baka in Cameroon depend on hunting and gathering plants and other products from the woods for their survival. Logging and large-scale agricultural plantations now encroach on their areas. Photo: Swedwatch