Gold mines put a lot of dust in the atmosphere, destroy habitat that should be preserved, but most of all it pollutes the water supply. It creates toxic waste that raises the acid level. One byproduct it creates is mercury, and other heavy metals. Cyanide is another chemical that can cause problems, since it’s used to leach gold from ore.
If you’ve ever been to a production mine, you’d never want to go back. Not because of the environmental destruction, but all the rules and regulations! it’s like being in prison! In all seriousness, all major mines in the US, Canada, Australia, etc are run very, very strictly. Accidents and pollution will slow, or halt production (not to mention political fallout- which can be a death blow) With very high overheads in mining, companies have evolved procedures to the point that mines are finely tuned machines.
citing mercury and cyanide as potential problems with mining- large scale operations have several layers of containment and protection for both people and the land. Between OSHA and EPA regulations, there are many safeguards and regulation.
Smaller operations, mainly placer operations in Canada’s north, are more of a concern. Generally, they operate in already mined areas, using modern technology to extract residual gold from mined riverbeds and tailings. The low hanging fruit was picked many decades to a century before now; the vast environmental damage was done well before any of us were born. These folks are marginal producers, and represent quite a small amount of total production.
These operations are still routinely monitored, as are the watersheds in which they mine. Generally in remote areas with small populations, they represent a significant portion of the local economy and the government regulators are present to both monitor and record for taxation! tax evasion with small placer mining operations is another concern, as it is a highly fungible asset that can be transferred anywhere rather clandestinely without any record of it existing!
Cyanide and erosion are the biggest environmental effects of gold mining, particularly since cyanide is a potent poison that can leech into ground water and soil, poisoning a wide area.
I hope this helped!
gold mining does not create any “dust” that has any macro-environmental impact. said dust is localized, heavy particulate matter which settles quickly. just as if you were to drive down a country dirt road, it’s just dust. and this dust would be confined to a mine, where it would have little impact outside of the immediate area being mined.
gold is mined in a variety of ways, and the jurisdiction in which it is mined plays the most pivotal role. The United States and Canada have some of the highest environmental standards as far as mining concerns. Yes, there is an environmental impact, like any extractive industry. As far as cyanide and mercury, the EPA and Environment Canada exhaustively monitor heavy metals and toxic materials. As such, mining is prohibitively expensive for all but the most modern operations.
Nowadays, overseas suppliers are of greatest concern; the developing world puts business far ahead of environment. As a retired card-carrying member of the Sierra Club and mineral exploration geologist, I shiver at the thought of over-regulating North American suppliers of minerals (which are increasingly raked over the coals), as overseas producers destroy the environment from afar… though we still share the same air and water!
Thanks for this answer. I hadn’t thought about the issue of regulation in this way. I wonder what is the best way to determine a proper level of regulation in the U.S. and Canada, so as to not overly encourage mining in under-regulated countries? It seems any regulation will move the needle at least a little bit. How do we determine the proper balance?
That is the million dollar question. Mining has a very negative connotation attached to it in much of the developed world. The NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) mentality prevails, especially where much of the population is concentrated around urban centers, far removed both physically and psychologically from natural resource production which fuels the extremely high rates of consumption/demand of modern society.
Regulation, or over-regulation in some cases, is a political and legal spiderweb which often forces producers (yes, the pejorative multi-national mining companies) overseas as deposits elsewhere are more economically feasible. The legal and political gauntlet can easily delay the extraction of a resource by a decade, often longer.
A proper balance can be found, where companies can profit, the environment conserved, and the public provided. But the public, in general, needs to be fully-educated about the costs and benefits of mining. Accepting the fact that, as consumers, we create the demand which the mining companies meet with supply; the demand creates the supply, not the other way around.
I just look at the Toyota Prius, a popular enviro-friendly car. The amount of lithium needed for that model is well over 100lbs per unit, which requires extraction from the ground. And while we strive to reduce emissions through such technology, and eventually innovate our way out of an oil-based economy, we will always need to mine out of necessity. As I once joked to a geologist “you’d be out of a job if the wizard creates an alchemy machine.”
I have an aside question for you if that is okay… In your opinion would it be safe to plant a vegetable garden on land surrounded by gold and silver mines? I live in Colorado, US if that helps. Thanks!
are you near one of the few operational mines in Colorado? or are you nearby one of the (seemingly) countless defunct gold/silver mines? your best bet is local water/groundwater reports from either municipalities, the state government, or the EPA.
older mines are problematic- Colorado’s famous for this among others things. these places are a central focus of superfund sites. I would check with local agencies- Colorado employs many a hydrologist, hydrogeologist and biologist- and they regularly test the groundwater and soils.
You can always submit your water and soil samples, or search for reports from your area.
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