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