The environmental impact of silver mining

The environmental impact of silver mining is very serious. Some of the most common side effects are soil erosion, deforestation, and water pollution. This is because in order to extract silver from the earth miners often use dangerous chemicals like cyanide that can cause ecological disasters when not handled correctly. Luckily there are several methods to minimize these undesirable consequences by utilizing cutting-edge mining technologies like Bioleaching.

Silver is a metal that people use to make coins, jewelry, and other things. Mining silver can be hard because it is found deep in the earth. There are many ways to mine for silver like open-pit mining, underground mining, heap leaching and pressure leaching.

Highlights

  • Mining silver has serious environmental consequences, but there are ways to reduce these risks.
  • Environmental issues include erosion, sinkholes and loss of biodiversity.
  • Bioleaching is a process in which microorganisms break down ore, with less of an environmental impact than other methods.

There are many mines around the world. It is not hard to find one. The oldest ones are in Peru or Norway, but there are mines in North America, Canada, South America and Europe that have reserves worth mining for years to come.

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Gold is usually considered the rarest metal, but silver has a higher concentration. It takes 19 times more mined surface area to get equal amounts of gold as silver. In recent years, many people have been buying the physical silver. A trend has started that is being led by a group on the famous social network Reddit.

Four types of silver mining

Open pit mining happens by making an open cut in the earth. This exposes ore veins that contain silver. Open-pit mines need a lot of space for digging and moving big equipment. When open-pit mines are open cuts, it is easy to get material from beneath them because there is an opening. For example, you can use excavators, backhoes, dump trucks and shovels to get materials out of the ground under them.

Underground mines are dug into the earth’s crust to find ore that contains silver. The tunnels are carved and then they dig out the rock in order to expose silver veins. The broken up ore bearing rocks are taken out of the mine with trucks or elevators and then crushed with drills and blasters. Electricity is needed in order for these things to happen.

Heap leaching is a type of mining where lagoons and pools with ore on top are made close together. Gravity pulls more pure silver out of the ore. Water is sprayed over the lagoons and ponds to wash out finer particles of silver which collect in settling ponds and heaps at the bottom of mines. The water that collected these finer particles of silver is then taken to a refinery for processing into pure silver bars or coins.

Pressure leaching is when you wash silver out of crushed ore with water. It is like open-pit heap leaching, but instead of using open lagoons and ponds, it uses closed tanks called pressure vessels. The water sprays up from below to wash out the silver particles on grates above them. This water goes to a refinery where they make pure silver bars or coins.

What environmental risks are associated with mining silver?

Environmental issues can include erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. In some cases, additional forest logging is done in the vicinity of mines to create space for the storage of the created debris and soil.

Erosion and sinkholes

Sinkholes frequently appear in mining process where sinkhole is a topographical depression that has no natural external surface drainage; water fills up the sinkhole and can create huge sinkholes when exploited by humans with mining activities. The phenomena often pose life-threatening risk to roads, homes and building foundations in the area.

It is important to monitor sinkhole appearance because sinkholes are one major issues in mining process, especially when the sinkhole has formed. Several mines have appeared sinkholes caused by large amounts of water creating a hole on land surface above underground mining.

Sinkholes happen when mining activities take place in regions that contain karst geology: rocks and minerals that are soluble in water and erode with the passing of time. Water may sink into sinkholes and become underground water, becoming an issue for mining companies as they lose access to this resource and sinkhole problems increase.  

Soil contanimation

Silver mining can harm the environment because eroded soil is usually a byproduct of mining. When soil erodes, it exposes that area to outside contaminants or chemicals. This can happen when the wind and rain carry those chemicals onto the land. So, this means mining companies should take precautions to stop contamination of soil from happening.

Sometimes, when mining, chemicals can leak from the mine and cause a problem. They can make soil outside the mine contaminated. But sometimes they contaminate the soil inside the mine too.

Some ways that soil can be contaminated are by reusing materials on the site, transporting materials, disposing of things in the ground, and having accidents.

Mining can contaminate not just the environment but also the people who live near or work at mines. There are many ways that mining contamination has affected communities and areas where mining takes place. Mining can lead to contaminated water, which can in turn lead to contaminated fish and crops in these areas. Mining also contaminates the soils in these communities, which affects plants and animals too.

This leads to contamination of animal diets, which can then lead to contamination in food chains. Contamination can also happen to plants, which can also lead back to animal diets. Silver mining companies should be careful when mining because they don’t want their soil contaminated. That would cause the plants around their mine site contaminated, and that could spread back up the food chain to animals who eat those plants.

Bioleaching can reduce silver mining negative impacts

Mining companies are under pressure to make their processes less harmful for the environment. One way they can do that is by using advanced technology. Another way to be environmentally friendly would be by using bioleaching.

Bioleaching is a process in which microorganisms break down ore to release silver without using water or chemicals. This has less of an impact on the environment than when other methods are used. Another benefit is that you can extract the metal faster than if you used different methods. The main concern with this process is that it might release acid-producing bacteria and damage water quality, soil chemistry and vegetation in the area.

Bacteria that are normally found in soil can become harmful if they are put into the environment without being monitored. The researchers working on this process are now trying to develop chemicals that will not let the acid-producing bacteria grow during the process. The amount of water currently used in mining is not sustainable for many areas around the world, so bioleaching provides a sustainable, eco-friendly way to mine silver.

Conclusion

Mining for silver has bad effects. The most common are soil erosion, deforestation, and water pollution. That happens because mining companies use chemicals like cyanide to get the silver out of the ground. This is not good for fragile environments. Thankfully there are ways to minimize these bad effects by utilizing new technologies that have been shown to be successful at recovering nearly all of the silver while minimizing harmful impacts on our environment.

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