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.