M.G. Kelly, 1997. "Effects of Heavy Metals on the Aquatic Biota", The Environmental Geochemistry of Mineral Deposits: Part A: Processes, Techniques, and Health Issues Part B: Case Studies and Research Topics, G.S. Plumlee, M.J. Logsdon, L.F. Filipek
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This review focuses on the effects of heavy metals on the aquatic (primarily freshwater) biota. During the 1970s and 1980s there was intense research interest in the biological effects of heavy metals. While this has provided a firm foundation for the interpretation of toxic effects associated with metalliferous mining in particular, many other aspects of mining, with potentially adverse effects on the biota, have received less attention. In particular, physical factors, such as those associated with high suspended solid loads, for example, are studied comparatively rarely, although for many deposits of insoluble metals (e.g., gold, tin) such factors may be more significant than toxicity (LaPerriere et al., 1985; Van Nieuwenhuyse and LaPerriere, 1986; Briones, 1987). Moreover, discovery of a valuable mineral may lead to large increases in population. The town of Jos in Nigeria, for example, owes its existence to the tin mines in the region and the main water quality problem in the Delimi river downstream of the town is due to sewage pollution rather than to mining (Kelly and Ali, 1993). Further environmental impacts can include clearing land for agriculture to feed the growing population (Livett et al., 1979). It would be wrong to consider the potential impact of a new development without considering these aspects as well.
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The Environmental Geochemistry of Mineral Deposits: Part A: Processes, Techniques, and Health Issues Part B: Case Studies and Research Topics
Environmental issues have become important, if not critical, factors in the success of proposed mining projects worldwide. In an ongoing and intense public debate about mining and its perceived environmental impacts, the mining industry points out that there are many examples of environmentally responsible mining currently being carried out (e.g., Todd and Struhsacker, 1997). The industry also emphasizes that the majority of mining-environmental problems facing society today are legacies from the past when environmental consequences of mining were poorly understood, not regulated, or viewed as secondary in importance to societal needs for the resources being extracted. On the other hand, environmental organizations (e.g., Mineral Policy Center, 1999) point to recent environmental problems, such as those stemming from open-pit gold mining at Summitville, Colorado, in the late 1980s (see Summitville summaries in Posey et al., 1995; Danielson and Alms, 1995; Williams, 1995; Plumlee, 1999), or those associated with a 1998 tailings dam collapse in Spain (van Geen and Chase, 1998), as an indication that environmental problems (whether accidental or resulting from inappropriate practices) can still occur in modern mining. Recent legislation imposing a moratorium on new mining in Wisconsin, and banning new mining in Montana using cyanide heap-leach extraction methods further underscore the seriousness of the debate and its implications for mineral resource extraction.
In this debate, one certainty exists: there will always be a need for mineral resources in developed and developing societies. Although recycling and substitution will help meet some of the worlds resource needs, mining will always be relied upon to meet the remaining needs. The challenge will be to continue to improve the ways in which mining is done so as to minimize its environmental effects.
The earth, engineering, and life sciences (which we group here under the term “earth-system sciences,” or ESS for short) provide an ample toolkit that can be drawn upon in the quest for environmentally friendly mineral resource development. The papers in this two-part volume provide many details on tools in the scientific toolkit, and how these tools can be used to better understand, anticipate, prevent, mitigate, and remediate the environmental effects of mining and mineral processing.
As with any toolkit, it is the professional’s responsibility to choose the tool(s) best suited to a specific job. By describing the tools now available, we do not mean to imply that all of these tools need even be considered at any given site, nor that