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 Mineral Extraction and the Effects of Mining on the Environment
    Author: BacTech Environmental Corporation

 The term "mineral extraction" is most closely associated with the mining process, wherein base metals, precious metals, and other geological materials that cannot be grown through agricultural processes or created in labs, are removed from the earth.

Although mining has been conducted for centuries, modern mining involves the prospecting of land for ore-based bodies (and other "non-renewable" materials), analyzing the profit potential of a mine site, extraction of materials from underground, and the eventual reclamation of the land for other uses and purposes once a mine has closed. Only in recent years have worldwide regulations been adopted that set best practices around the clean-up of abandoned mines. Prior to such regulations, centuries of mining led to what is now a global catastrophe of arsenic pollution and chronic health conditions in regions where materials have been excavated and the land poorly reclamated, if at all.

Safety is a growing concern, leading the mining industry, as well as regional and federal jurisdictions, to enforce the safe recovery of minerals, thereby mitigating negative impact on the surrounding environments. Patented technologies are in place to insure recent regulations are met and to allow mining and remediation entities to profit from the extracted materials.

An example of industry-leading remediation technology is bioleaching. Through the use of naturally-occurring bacteria, the bioleach process extracts metals from ores with little or no use of chemicals (cyanide is still used in a closed-loop system for gold recovery only; not in other precious or base metals). As a result, bioleaching is a safer method of neutralizing arsenic, as well as other toxins, from left-over mine site debris or "tailings." When applied, the process is an effective and environmentally-friendly way of recovering metal from tailings and mitigating the leaching of toxins into ground-water supply and adjacent land.

To illustrate the severity and impact of mining on land that is not properly reclamated, there are hundreds of thousands of sites around the world that display unnaturally high levels of toxins, such as arsenic, sulfuric acid, and mercury. Massive contamination from chemicals and compounds used in and extracted via the mining process, as well as water produced from mine drainage, affects every aspect of a surrounding ecosystem, from rivers and creeks to forests and farm lands. Residents of such areas demonstrate higher risk of health conditions associated with chronic arsenic exposure, as well as more diagnosed diseases related to ingestion of chemicals through crop and water supply.

The only viable way to stave off the additional harmful effects of mineral extraction from mining, is to require that all regulations involve processes like bioleaching and result in EPA-approved, benign substances posing no risk to the environment. The only solution is a permanent solution that enables safer, greener mining.

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