SREL Reprint #2186





Environmental Impacts of Metal Ore Mining and Processing: A Review

Stanislaw Dudka and Domy C. Adriano


The impact of mining and smelting of metal ores on environmental quality is described. Mines produce large amounts of waste because the ore is only a small fraction of the total volume of the mined material. In the metal industry, production of Cu, Pb, and Zn causes the greatest degradation of the environment. Copper mining produces extensive mine wastes and tailings and Cu smelting emits approximately 0.11 Mg of S per Mg of Cu produced in the USA. Zinc and Ph smelters release large quantities of Cd and Ph into the environment. Metal smelting and refining produce gaseous (CO2, S02, NOx, etc.) and particulate matter emissions, sewage waters, and solid wastes. Soil contamination with trace metals is considered a serious problem related to smelting; however, mining and smelting are not main sources of global metal input into soils. Other sources like discarded manufactured products, coal ash, agriculture, and transportation take a lead. Smelters are the main sources of atmospheric emissions of As, Cu, Cd, Sb, and Zn on a global scale and they contribute substantially to the overall emissions of Cr, Pb, Se, and Ni. A quantitative evaluation of the environmental health effects of mining and smelting is difficult because of the complexity of factors involved and lack of consistent methodology. Nevertheless, the case studies described indicate that negative health effects could arise from Ph mining and smelting. Risk assessment revealed that food chain contamination by Cd from soils contaminated by smelting is very unlikely under the western diet.

SREL Reprint #2186

Dudka, S. and D.C. Adriano. 1997. Environmental impacts of metal ore mining and processing: a review. Journal of Environmental Quality 26:590-602.

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