According to research, metal mining harms rivers and floodplains

Newswise – groundbreaking research published today science, It provided new insights into the widespread impact of metal mining pollution on rivers and streams worldwide, with an estimated 23 million people estimated to be exposed to potentially dangerous concentrations of toxic waste.

Professors Mark McLean and Chris Thomas, directors of the Lincoln Center for Water and Planetary Health at the University of Lincoln, UK – working with Dr Amog Mudbhatkal from the University's Department of Geography – research offers a comprehensive understanding of environment and health. Challenges related to metal mining activities.

Using a new georeferenced global database of 185,000 metal mines compiled by the team and a combination of process-based modeling and empirical testing, the study assessed the global extent of metal mining pollution in river systems and its consequences for human populations and livestock.

The study modeled contamination from all known active and inactive metal mining sites, including tailings storage facilities – used to store mining waste – and examined potentially harmful contaminants such as lead, zinc, copper and arsenic transported downstream from mining operations. and are often deposited along river channels and floodplains over long periods of time.

“Our new method for predicting the dispersion of mine waste in river systems around the world gives governments, environmental regulators, the mining industry and local communities a tool that, for the first time, will allow them to assess the upstream and downstream impacts of mining. ecosystem and human health,” he said Professor Mark Maclean, who led the multidisciplinary, international team behind the research:

“We expect this will make it easier to mitigate the environmental impacts of historic and current mining and, more importantly, help minimize the impact of future mining development on communities, as well as protect food and water security.”

Released amid growing demand for metals and minerals to meet green energy transition needs, the new results highlight the wide scale of the pollution, affecting some 479,200 kilometers of river channels and including 164,000 square kilometers of flooding globally. .

According to findings released today, an estimated 23.48 million people live on these affected floodplains, which support 5.72 million livestock and cover more than 65,000 square kilometers of irrigated land. Due to the lack of data available for several countries, the team behind the study considers these numbers to be conservative estimates.

There are various routes of exposure to these pollutant metals, including through skin contact, accidental ingestion, inhalation of contaminated dust, and consumption of contaminated water and food from contaminated soil.

This poses an additional threat to the health of towns and villages in low-income countries and communities that depend on these rivers and floodplains, especially in regions already burdened by water-related diseases. In industrialized Western European countries, including the UK and the US, this pollution is a major and growing constraint to water and food security, disrupting vital ecosystem services and contributing to antimicrobial resistance in the environment.

Rapid growth in global metal mining is critical if the world is to transition to green energy. Said Professor Chris Thomas, who led the analysis and modelling, “Much The estimated global pollution we observed is a legacy from the industrial age – rightly so, as modern mining is encouraged as a priority for environmental sustainability. Our methods, which also work at local scales, add an important new approach to this process, which is why our Research Center's Applied Water and Planetary Health Analytics Unit was created to work with the sector.”

Professor Deanna Kemp from the University of Queensland's Sustainable Minerals Institute, who was part of the team behind the research, called The results are “sobering”.

“At a basic level, these findings remind us that mining can cause a lot of damage over a long period of time.Kemp said. “Many people benefit from mining and metals extraction, but we need to do more to understand and prevent negative impacts on people who live and work in affected areas.”