Gold mining can have devastating effects on nearby water resources.
Toxic mine waste contains as many as three dozen dangerous chemicals including:
- petroleum byproducts
Mining companies around the world routinely dump toxic waste into rivers, lakes, streams and oceans - our research has shown 180 million tonnes of such waste annually. But even if they do not, such toxins often contaminate waterways when infrastructure such as tailings dams, which holds mine waste, fail.
According to the UNEP there have been over 221 major tailings dam failures. These have killed hundreds of people around the world, displaced thousands and contaminated the drinking water of millions.
The resulting contaminated water is called acid mine drainage, a toxic cocktail uniquely destructive to aquatic life. According to one study: "The effects of AMD are so multifarious that community structure collapses rapidly and totally, even though very often no single pollutant on its own would have caused such a severe ecological impact."
These same "multifarious impacts" also makes recovery from such wastes much more difficult.
This environmental damage ultimately affects us -- in addition to drinking water contamination, AMD's byproducts such as mercury and heavy metals work their way into the food chain and sicken people and animals for generations.
The Biggest Polluters:
The top four mines that dump tailings into bodies of water account for 86% of the 180 million tonnes dumped into bodies of water each year. Those mines are:
- Freeport McMoRan and Rio Tinto’s Grasberg mine in West Papua, Indonesia, which accounts for approximately 80 million tonnes of tailings
- Newmont Sumitomo Mining’s Batu Hijau mine in Indonesia, which accounts for approximately 40 million tonnes
- Ok Tedi Mining Ltd.’s Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea, which accounts for approximately 22 million tonnes
- Cliff’s Mining Company’s Wabush/Scully mine in Labrador, Canada, which accounts for 13 million tonnes of tailings
Of the over 2,000 major mining companies in the world only one company, BHP Billiton, is taking steps to avoid catastrophes like this from recurring.
For more information:
- Earthworks Ruined Lands, Poisoned Waters. A section from Dirty Metals: Mining Communities and the Environment.
- Earthworks Troubled Waters: How Mine Waste Dumping is Poisoning Our Oceans, Rivers, and Lakes
- Earthworks EARTHblog: Report from the field: Tailings dam fails at silver mine in Turkey
- Earthworks Cyanide Factsheet
- Earthworks Mining Pollutes the World's Waterways
- Earthworks Acid Mine Drainage
- Earthworks Mercury
- Earthworks Fort Belknap Reservation
- Chronology of major tailings dam failures
- BBC Report
- Earthworks EARTHblog: Troubled Waters – and no bridge to cross them