Mining and Ore Processing

Mining and Ore Processing

Fact Sheet: Mining and Ore Processing – Ranked #3


Estimated DALYs: 2,521,600


What is the industry?


Mining and ore processing is an essential industry that supplies the minerals, metals and gems needed to produce a wide variety of products and materials. Mining is the process of removing ore, minerals, metals and gems from the earth. Mining is done through surface or open-pit mining, underground mining or through fluid mining. Ore is removed from the earth and trucked to ore processing facilities, where it is crushed, washed and separated to obtain the materials located in the ore.


What are the pollutants?


The most hazardous pollutants at mining and ore processing sites investigated by Blacksmith are lead, chromium, asbestos, arsenic, cadmium and mercury. This reflects the emphasis in the database on abandoned sites and small-scale mining activities. However, pollutants found at mining sites are many and varied and could include radionuclides, cyanide, and other heavy metals. Lead and chromium are the top pollutants by DALYs and mercury is the top pollutant by number of population put at risk. Asbestos is particularly toxic and has a high DALY impact, but there is only a small number of asbestos mining sites.


What are the exposure pathways?


Waste products are the main source of pollution from both currently operating mines and legacy pollution sites. Waste from ore processing can contaminate air, soil and water when improperly disposed. In addition, pollutants can spread during the mining process when the mine is exposed to weather, heavy metals leach out of the exposed mine and into surface water as runoff. During the transportation of ore, contaminated dust can enter the air, soil or water.


What are the health risks?


When lead is inhaled or ingested it is stored in the body and accumulates over time. Lead is designated as a possible human carcinogen, and can cause neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems. Neurological problems include mild mental retardation, decreased IQ, shortened attention spans, loss of executive functions, increased dyslexia and diminished productivity and affect disproportionally affect children. Chromium is a known carcinogen that is proven to cause lung cancer from inhalation and is suspected to cause stomach cancer through ingestion. Mercury can cause renal toxicity, damage to the immune system, neurological damage and damage to genetic and enzyme systems. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and affects the whole respiratory system. Three serious health impacts include asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

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