Mining operations can occur for a varied amount of time; ranging from a few years to multiple decades. Once a mine’s operations have ceased, it is common practice for the mine site to be rehabilitated to ensure that the location is safe.
Despite regulations in place, there are still mines around the world that are abandoned for a plethora of reasons. In fact, experts suggest there are approximately half a million abandoned mine sites in the United States, and that 20-30 people die in accidents on abandoned mine sites per year.
Why Would a Mine Be Abandoned?
There are many reasons for which a mine could be abandoned, including the unanticipated cessation of mining operations due to lack of funding, social conflict, or change in viability of operations.
Alternatively, a mine may have been abandoned prior to the creation of mining rehabilitation regulations, or the regulations may have been ignored.
Why is it a Concern?
Abandoned mines can be of grave concern. According to the National Orphaned and Abandoned Mines Initiative, an abandoned mine poses “environmental, health, safety, and economic problems to communities, the mining industry and governments”.
Abandoned mines can have significant negative impacts on the environment. Some of the most notable effects include:
- Contaminated water and deteriorated water conditions
- Polluted soil
- Falling hazards
- Spontaneous combustion of materials (i.e. coal)
Health & Safety Impact
Abandoned mines can not only have lasting and substantial environmental effects, they can also be damaging to the health and safety of those who live in the communities near them.
Contaminated soil and waterways can contribute to negative health impacts, including increased exposure to minerals and metals.
Moreover, since an abandoned mine site are no longer maintained, the risk for injury and/or illness is much higher. Risks of accessing an abandoned mine could result in injury or illness due to:
- Unstable ground conditions
- Falling rock due to collapses or cave ins
- Drowning hazards
- Ventilation issues