Tens of millions of people – more than live in the entire state of Florida – are now exposed to toxic water runoff from metal mining, a new study has found.
The report lays bare the devastating impacts that can follow a reckless transition to “green” energy, compounding the ecological damage caused by more than 150 years of drilling and mining for fossil fuels.
Researchers found that 23 million people worldwide, plus 5.72 million livestock, more than 16 million acres of irrigated agricultural land and more than 297,800 miles of rivers have been contaminated by toxic mining byproducts that They filter into the water.
This mining of metals includes many of the so-called “rare earth elements” essential for the manufacture of high-tech electronics, solar cells, wind turbines and all the batteries needed to store sustainable “green” energy (and power electric cars and iPhones ).
While the new study focuses on environmental impacts, global metals mining has recently faced shocking lawsuits against major tech companies, including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Tesla, over child slavery in the Congo, where it is sourced. 70 percent of the industry’s cobalt.
Researchers found that more than 477,800 miles of rivers have been contaminated by toxic mining byproducts. Above, March 27, 2021, aerial view of an area contaminated with toxic waste generated by mining companies that have contaminated the Tagarete River in Bolivia.
Scientists found that 23 million people have been exposed to toxic mining waste worldwide. Above, Dan Bender of the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office takes a sample from the Animas River in Colorado contaminated by approximately 3 million gallons of waste from the Gold King mine.
“The rapid growth of global metal mining is crucial for the world to transition to green energy,” he noted. Chris Thomaszoologist at the University of Lincoln whose specialty is spatial ecology and threats to the global water supply.
Thomas led the analysis and modeling work on the new study, which was published today in Science.
Thomas and his colleagues have developed a new database, backed by field testing, that now maps the hundreds of square kilometers of rivers and floodplains polluted by these industrial processes around the world.
They found that the devastation caused by this pollution was widespread, affecting approximately 297,800 miles (479,200 km) of river systems in total and more than 63,000 square miles (164,000 square kilometers) of floodplains worldwide.
But North America stood out as the hardest hit, with 123,280 miles of contaminated river systems and approximately 10.7 million acres of contaminated floodplains.
But the damage was not much greater in South America, with 50,766 miles of rivers and more than 9.5 million acres of floodplains impacted; nor in Asia, with about 37,842 river miles and about 8.3 million acres of floodplains contaminated by metal mining waste.
However, in terms of the potency of local damage, the scientists reserved their harshest criticism for “the environmental legacy of historic mining”, which they said was “most problematic in Western Europe”, where old, long-abandoned mines have left lasting environmental damage. .
“Much of the estimated global pollution we have mapped is a legacy of the industrial age,” Thomas said in a news release. “It’s no wonder modern mining is being encouraged to prioritize environmental sustainability.”
Researchers developed a model to predict the spread of contaminants from all known active and inactive metal mines, as well as facilities used to seal hazardous mine waste, focusing on lead, zinc, copper and arsenic contamination.
Potentially harmful mining contaminants can leach into local water supplies, either transported downstream along river beds and floodplains, or deep into underground aquifers. Chronic copper poisoning kills sheep on North Ronaldsay, Texel, Suffolk
These potentially harmful pollutants and industrial byproducts can leach into local water supplies, either transported downstream where metals are deposited along river beds and floodplains, or otherwise sink deep into underground aquifers.
Mark Macklin, director of the university’s Lincoln Center for Water and Planetary Health, who led the international team behind the new research, said he anticipates the new study’s maps and modeling tools will help prevent reckless mining in the future.
“We hope this will facilitate the mitigation of the environmental effects of historical and current mining,” Macklin said.
‘Our new method for predicting the dispersion of mining waste in river systems provides governments, environmental regulators, the mining industry and local communities with a tool that, for the first time, will allow them to assess the impacts of mining on the ecosystem off-site and downstream. and human health.’