Central Utah Anchors State's Coal Mining Industry

While mining is essential to modern civilization, providing the required resources to fuel our favorite luxuries, even miners understand that the practice can get messy. Moving and removing several thousand tons of rock and dirt will never be a thoroughly simple endeavor, and some communities near active mines could potentially be inconvenienced if the operation isn’t careful. Fortunately, there are dozens of ways to keep nearby communities happy and healthy without abandoning your mining operation; read on for some solutions to the effects mines can have on the surrounding environment.

Watch the Water

Though mining might seem like a dusty, dry activity, a surprising amount of water goes into the extraction of valuable resources from the earth. Some types of mines require drastically more water than others; metal mines use inordinate amounts of water for the chemical processing of the ore, while non-metal mines, like those for salt, coal, and gravel, do not, but all mines rely on water for other procedures, including controlling dust.

Unfortunately, mines also come into contact with water they don’t necessarily use. Drilling and mining processes often encounter surface and groundwater, which can trickle away carrying toxic chemicals used on the site. Nearby ecosystems and communities that rely on local water sources will suffer from this contamination in various ways, depending on the nature of the pollutant.

Large and medium mining companies tend to follow strict environmental management strategies to mitigate the leeching of chemicals into water that nearby communities rely on. Water recycling tends to be high at mining sites, and most take drastic measures to prevent surface and groundwater from entering any mining locations. However, small-scale, informal mining operations (called artisanal mining or ASM) often pay less heed to their use of harsh chemicals, including mercury, cyanide, and sulfur. Thus, mining operations should always create water treatment facilities before fully evacuating from a particular region, thereby ensuring the surrounding community can continue relying on their natural sources of water.

Cover Up

Trucks driven on unsealed roads, rocks and metals being constantly crushed, wind blowing over drilling operations — all of these lead to noise and air pollution that can disrupt nearby residential areas. While noise rarely causes issues any more serious than displeasure, dust pollution can have serious long-term health effects on surrounding communities.

At its least debilitating, dust inflames the nasal and sinus passages, making it difficult to breathe through the nose. Dust particles that get farther into the lungs can be swept away by the immune system, but chronic exposure to dusty air often sees the immune system fail, and the dust particles lodged in the lung’s air sacs can cause intense scarring (called silicosis) that impairs respiration.

To thwart dust pollution, some mines use water to dampen roads, stockpiles, conveyors, and other dusty culprits, preventing dry dust from getting into the air. However, this practice wastes abundant amounts of water. A more sustainable solution is to cover up active mining sites with inexpensive structures, like fabric buildings. For even more protection, mining organizations can plant trees in buffer zones around the mines to catch wind-blown dust — and to improve the look and feel of the surface mine.

Region Rehabilitation

Mines do not last forever; most modern mines rarely live to see their ninth anniversary. While many mine companies want to pull out and find new resource-rich land as soon as possible, the restoration period following a mine’s end of operations is vital for the health and security of the surrounding ecosystem and residential community.

Ideally, a mining company will develop a rehabilitation plan before it starts operations in an area to limit the environmental destruction as well as to hasten final restoration. Prepared mines can redirect surface water, like ponds and streams, to prevent contamination and replant the flora that must be removed to create the mine. If no initial plan is created, the mine must use the unaffected region surrounding the mine to inform the gradual reclamation process, which must include reshaping the land, replacing the soil, and replanting native grasses and trees.

The time it takes for the land to become self-supportive varies dependent on the extent of the mining operation and the care taken to rehabilitate the area; it could take as little as a year for the indigenous plants to begin germinating, but it might also require more than a decade. Eventually, wildlife should once again flourish and the surrounding community will appreciate the mining endeavor that occurred.