Mining, simply stated, is the extraction or removal of minerals and metals from earth. Manganese, tantalum, copper, tin, nickel, aluminum ore, iron ore, gold, silver, and diamonds are some of the items commonly mined. It is worth knowing that mining is a money-spinning business where not only mining companies prosper but the government also collects huge revenues.
It is common knowledge that minerals and metals are very valuable commodities and in great demand. It is to be noted that manganese is a key component of low-cost stainless steel. It is also used to de-color glass by removing greenish hues. Tantalum is used in cell phones, pagers, and lap-tops. Cooper and tin are used to make pipes, cookware, etc. Needless to say, silver and diamonds are used to make jewelry.
Mining are generally of two categories – Large Scale mining and Small Scale mining. Large scale mining is usually undertaken by big companies using many employees and a huge labor force. The company mines at large sites and continues the operations until the mineral or metal is completely excavated. One classic example of a large scale mine, that one readily remembers, is the Serra Pelada mine in Brazil which yielded 29,000 tons of gold from 1980 to 1986 and employed 50,000 workers. Small scale mining is done by a relatively small group of wandering men. They travel together and identify sites they think will yield gold or any other valuable metal or mineral. Small scale mining occurs in places such as Suriname, Guyana, and Central Africa among other places. Some researchers believe that small scale mining is more harmful to the environment and causes more social problems than large scale mining.
There is no denying that both large scale and small scale mining are generally very destructive to the environment as mining is one of the chief causes of deforestation. Trees, plants and all vegetation are cleared and burned to make the ground completely bare for mining operations. Large scale mining also involves using huge bulldozers and excavators to extract the metals and minerals from the soil. Further, to amalgamate the extractions, they use chemicals such as cyanide, mercury, or methyl-mercury. These poisonous chemicals are quite often discharged into rivers, streams, bays, and oceans. This contaminates all living organisms within the water body and the people who depend on the fish and other sea creatures for their main source of livelihood are badly affected.
Small scale mining is equally devastating to the environment. Groups of 5-6 men migrate from one mining site to another in pursuit of precious metals, particularly gold. There are two types of small scale mining: land dredging and river dredging.
Mining affects the health of the people as they are exposed to the toxic waste from the tailings. They develop skin rashes, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, etc and the symptoms of mercury poisoning are very similar to the symptoms of malaria. Most unfortunately, many people who can not afford to go to a doctor, or who live in a village where a doctor is not available are often not treated for their illnesses. If the water is contaminated, the people can not use it for bathing, cooking, or washing their clothes.
Mining regularly occurs in many places around the world, including the U.S. In South America, mining is widely practiced in the Amazonia region, Guyana, Suriname, and few other countries. In Central Africa, mining devastated a National Park called Kahuzi-Biega in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). South Africa is internationally known for mining diamonds. Mining also occurs in Indonesia and other S.E. Asian countries.