Environmental Pollution Caused by the Mining Industry

7 pages
1667 words
Sewanee University of the South
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Table of Contents

Executive Summary 4
1.0 Introduction 5
2.0 Pollution Sources Emanating from the Mining Industry 5
3.0 Environmental pollution as a result of mining 5
3.1 Air 5-6
3.2 Water 6-8
3.3 Land 8
4.0 Legislation to curb coal mining pollution? 9
5.0 Conclusion 9
6.0 Appendix 10
8.0 References

Executive Summary:

Mining is a process of obtaining minerals from a mine. It is an important economic activity that has supported industrialization for centuries. Mining serves many roles. First, it is a source of mineral products needed to maintain and improve peoples standards of living. Second, materials obtained from mining are useful in the construction industry and technological industries. Other roles include generation of electricity and provision of many goods and services needed for day to day living.

Despite the importance of mining, the mining process leads to the production of toxic pollutants which can be harmful to living organisms. Pollution, as a result of mining, is of a major global concern because some of these pollutants contribute to global warming and health problems. This report will discuss the coal mining industry and how it pollutes the air, water, and land. Additionally, legislative frameworks needed to control and regulate pollution in this important industry will also be discussed. Lastly, the recommendation will be made on how the industry can be improved to enhance sustainable economic development.


Pollution refers to the introduction by human beings into the environment of substances or energy capable of causing harm to their health, those of other living organisms, damage to buildings and structures, and interference with ecological balance (Wolf, Stanley, and White, 2002, n.p.). Some of the types of pollution include air, water, and soil pollution (Evans and Furlong, 2011, 67). There are various mining industries which release toxic pollutants into the environment. An example includes coal mining industry.

2.0. Pollution Sources emanating from the coal mining industry:

The coal mining industry if not regulated can lead to the release of high concentration of environmental pollutants to air, water and land. Appendix 1

3.0 Environmental pollution as a result of mining activities.

3.1 Air

The primary air pollutants from coal mining industries are particulate matter and gasses such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon (II) oxide, sulfur (IV) oxide (SO2), and methane, CH4 (Miller, 2017, 85). The primary sources of emissions and air pollution in coal mines are mining activities such as drilling, noise emanating from blasting explosives, haulage of coal, and transportation. Additionally, coal left on the ground unattended have been reported to catch fire. These fires have proved difficult to control, with some of them burning for several years and releasing harmful gasses into the atmosphere. Moreover, utilization of explosives produces carbon (II) oxide: a respiratory poison. Apart from this, dust, soot, and coal particles are given out during mining process and transportation leads to respiratory problems (Hill, 2009, 89).

The presence of large quantities of suspended particulate matter in the atmosphere has been linked to respiratory problems in human beings (Hadjibiros, 2014, 161). Examples of respiratory diseases that arise as a result of inhalation of particulate matter include asthma and chronic bronchitis (Kulkarni, 2011, 793). On the other hand, gaseous emissions have been linked to cardiovascular diseases, respiratory complications, and cerebral problems. Lastly, coal mining industries release methane (CH4) to the atmosphere, the most dangerous greenhouse gas that is the leading cause of global warming. Even though methane emissions are affected by the methods of mining and coal quality, deep mines are associated with the release of larger quantities of methane.

There are two approaches for controlling methane in underground mines. The first method involves the use of ventilation systems. This approach is used in all mines to dilute and dissipate methane to the atmosphere. This method is adequate to ensure safe mining conditions. However, in mines containing plenty of gases, another method called degasification system is needed. This technique is use to degasify mine before, during, and after mining.

Degasification of CH4 from coal seams and nearby strata is a commonly used method in mines having long-wall mining, particularly in mines having which are gassy. This method can effectively control CH4 emissions before and during mining by decreasing emissions into the ventilation system. Methane emissions can also be curbed by lowering the gas concentration of coal seams through horizontal wells drilled from adjacent entries, vertical wells drilled from the ground level, or through directional wells drilled from the surface (Erdogan, Karacan and Okandan, 2013).

3.2 Water

One of the ways through which coal mining pollutes water sources is through acid mine drainage (AMD). AMD is a term used to describe the discharge of acid water from coal mines to water bodies. Acidic water is usually formed in abandoned mines where coal extraction has exposed rocks enriched with sulphur-containing mineral pyrite. Sulphur content of these rocks react to air, and water forming dilute sulphuric (VI) acid. This acid is discharged into neighboring rivers and streams and raises the acidity of these water bodies. Increased acidity leads to the death of aquatic life (Dutta et al., 2017). The acidity of water draining from abandoned mines as well as waste mines has also been found to contain high concentrations of metalloids (mainly arsenic) and metals (such as manganese, iron, and aluminum) which have a dangerous effect on the environment.

There are various methods of controlling AMD water pollution. First, AMD pollution can be controlled from the source, a method often known as source control. Source control is aimed at cutting off the formation of AMD at the source, such as from abandoned mines. Because both oxygen and water are needed to form AMD, it means that eliminating the supply of one or both of these will result in prevention or a decrease in AMD formation (Johnson and Hallberg, 2005, 4). One of the approaches to achieving this is through engulfing of abandoned mines with water or through sealing these mines. The dissolved oxygen contained in water will be utilized by micro-organisms responsible for oxidizing the minerals found in mines, such as iron-oxidising bacteria known as Gallionella ferruginea. Replenishment of dissolved oxygen through diffusion will be prevented by sealing the mines. The drawback of source control is that it only works if the location of the shafts and adits are known and also in places where it is impossible for inflow of water oxygen-rich water to occur.

Another method used to decrease the formation of AMD is through underwater storage, a method used for getting rid of mine tailings that produce acids. This is done to avoid minerals and oxygen from coming into contact. In this method, shallow water can also be used as covers, and their efficiency may be enhanced by covering the mine tailings with a sediment coating which cuts off oxygen entry (Johnson and Hallberg, 2005, 5).

3.3 Land

Land deterioration can occur due to the presence of large quantities of chemical wastes generated by coal plants. Most of these wastes are flammable and readily undergo combustion due to their high flammability. Coal mine wastes may also have heavy metals which can undergo leaching, resulting in contamination of water bodies and bio-accumulation along the aquatic food chain (Wuana and Okieimen, 2011, 4). In addition, coal mining leaves physical hazards including tunnels, abandoned shafts, and wells.

Coal mining through open-pit method, where excavation is made at the ground surface to create room for extraction of ore. Because of overburden or the removal of the soil and rocks which overlay the coal seam, opencast mining needs large area on the surface. In most instances, vast forest covers are transferred to create room for mining, leading to deforestation.

Moreover, subsidence of surface arises as a result of coal extraction by underground mining. Subsidence refers to a localized sinking of the ground surface due to the collapse of cavities and underground voids and is characterized by the formation of cracks on the surface in overworked areas compared to surroundings. Some of the effects of subsidence include surface cracking; destruction of buildings and pipelines; decreased serviceability of roads; vertical leakages of surface water from shallow aquifers negatively impact on the availability of water in springs and swamps; and diversion of surface water leading depletion of surface and ground water supply to water bodies. Subsidence can be reduced through panel and pillar mining, which is similar to long walls except for its narrow face and broader inter-panel pillars that offer extra protection to surface areas. Other methods of controlling subsidence include grouting and panel backfilling.

4.0 Legislation Used to Curb Pollution

One of the environmental regulations governing coal mining and pollution is the Clean Air Act (CAA), which was enacted in 1970 (Speight, 2012). It provides stringent requirements for prevention and control of major air pollutants. CAA amendments of 1977 further restricted sulfur (IV) oxide emissions from coal facilities (Melnick, 2010). Additionally, the emission of particulates from coal mines has strict limitations. Further amendments to CAA IN 1990 to strengthen the existing restrictions (Oren, 1991).

Another environmental regulation act is the Clean Water Act, which places restrictions on the amount of coal mine water discharges (Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 Section 501(b) Regulatory Program, 1979). The Act requires coal mining firms to undertake monitoring, sampling, and analysis of water and provide this information Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Hydrologists have documented the control of sedimentation from coal mines as well as protection of ground and surface water. The Act states water discharged during mining must meet stringent standards so as to maintain water system balance. Coal mines are also required to regulate sediment run off to limit pollution and chemical changes in streams (Environmental protection in the federal coal leasing program., n.d.)

Lastly, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 is based on the premise that coal mining is a temporary land use. The Act dictates that the land must be returned to its original condition after surface mining has been conducted to allow land use for other purposes.

5.0 Conclusion:

Coal mining has adverse consequences on the environment. It pollutes the air, water, and land. Such pollutants can also be harmful to human beings, property, and environment. The current legislation used to regulate pollution in coal mining industry include the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and t...

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