Environmental Challenges in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining
Typical environmental impacts of artisanal and small-scale mining are as follows: deforestation, topsoil removal, use of chemicals such as mercury for gold processing as well as for silver, unmanaged runoff and drainage issues, siltation of rivers – which can affect river ecosystems, disruption of naturally occurring chemicals in the soil.
For example, in Nigeria artisanal miners of gold are digging up dirt from the ground that has a lot of lead naturally and the lead is coming to the surface and causing a lot of deaths. Not because miners are using lead in mining, but because lead is now coming to the surface, where it wasn’t before. A lot of children are touching the soil and putting it in their mouths, and it’s been causing a lot of deaths in the rural areas of Nigeria. Other classic environmental impacts of artisanal mining are disruption of river bed ecosystems when we have dredging taking place. When miners get on boats and they use pipes and pumps to take the earth from the bottom of the rivers and then take that directly on to their boat and process it there. Fish habitat and others are disrupted by that, especially in places like the Amazon, where you have so much biodiversity in the rivers, this can be a jarring situation. In areas of high biodiversity, artisanal mining can impact wildlife because the first step in mining is to cut the trees down, in most circumstances. This can reduce habitat for various fauna in existence and this can cause stress, it can create more sunlight and more noise – and this all impacts on biodiversity.
The last impact of mining, and not limited to the ASM space, but all sizes of mining companies, and that is often talked about is a lack of environmental rehabilitation. We often talk about mine sites looking like lunar landings, where we have lots of pitting, complete removal of all trees and brush and miners just leave it there in most situations. There are some situations where responsible miners do rehabilitate the earth – that is rare.
Some key questions for engagement are: How will mining affect agriculture opportunities? How can I protect the soil? What can I do now to protect economic opportunities later? How can I transition out of mercury and still get the same amount of gold? How and where can I mine today with tomorrow in mind? Are there more sustainable livelihood options that are available to me? This needs to be done in a capacity-building approach of coaching and mentoring and long-term monitoring.
One solution that Barksanem™ has integrated into its business model is bioremediation. This is the decontamination of soil due to highly detrimental mining practices. Making the land arable by using patented innovative technology.