A recent study has revealed that a significant number of people, surpassing the population of Florida, are now exposed to water pollution resulting from metal mining.
The study sheds light on the environmental consequences associated with the transition to “green” energy, further compounding the ecological harm caused by over 150 years of fossil fuel drilling and mining, Daily Mail reported.
The research identified that toxic byproducts from metal mining have contaminated water sources, affecting approximately 23 million people globally, as well as 5.72 million livestock, over 16 million acres of irrigated farmland, and more than 297,800 miles of rivers. These toxic pollutants in water bodies are a consequence of metal mining, which includes the extraction of “rare earth elements” essential for high-tech electronics, solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries used in renewable energy systems, electric vehicles, and electronic devices.
While the study primarily focuses on the environmental impacts of metal mining, recent legal actions have been taken against major tech companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Tesla over allegations of child slavery in the Congo, where a significant portion of the industry’s cobalt is sourced.
The analysis, led by Chris Thomas, a zoologist specializing in spatial ecology and threats to the global water supply at the University of Lincoln, utilized a new database supported by on-site assessments to map the extensive areas of river systems and floodplains contaminated by industrial mining processes worldwide.
The contamination spanned approximately 297,800 miles of river systems and over 63,000 square miles of floodplains, with North America being particularly affected, accounting for 123,280 miles of polluted rivers and approximately 10.7 million acres of tainted floodplains. South America and Asia also experienced significant impacts from metal mining waste.
The study pointed out that much of the contamination is a legacy of the industrial era, particularly in western Europe, where abandoned mines have left long-lasting environmental damage. The researchers identified 159,735 abandoned mines and 22,609 active mines, along with 11,587 mining waste storage facilities and 257 known instances of failed and leaking storage sites, making it the most comprehensive compilation of metal mine locations to date.
The contamination primarily involves pollutants such as lead, zinc, copper, and arsenic, which can infiltrate local water supplies, whether transported downstream or absorbed into underground aquifers.
Mark Macklin, director of the Lincoln Centre for Water and Planetary Health, anticipates that the study’s findings and tools will help mitigate the environmental effects of historical and current mining practices.
While green energy technologies like wind turbines and electric vehicles do require significant mineral resources, the environmental impacts must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.