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Anthropogenic causes of air pollution: Mining Operations

Mining operations definition

Mining is the industry or activity of removing substances such as coal or metal from the ground by digging. Even though it may not seem very common on first world countries, material extraction is a very common activity, and you can find it almost everywhere.

Mining operations include the extraction of minerals and metals such as copper, tin, nickel, bauxite (aluminum ore), iron ore, gold, silver, and diamonds from Earth’s surface as raw materials for the manufacture of other products and commodities.  

Types of mining operations

These types of activities are one of the main causes of air pollution and we will discuss it on this post. However, mining operations also create huge impact on the land and the environment, destroying wildlife, ecosystems, landscapes and polluting water.

You should not confuse mining activities with cryptocurrency mining, which is a very different concept taking place in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or ethereum. Instead, check out the following mining types, mining pollution, and working conditions.

Surface mining

Surface mining, as the name itself indicates, is when the ore is accessed directly from the Earth’s surface, and contact is maintained with the surface throughout the operation. In other words, you don’t need to dig a tunnel to find the ore you look for.

There are several methods used nowadays for surface mining, but the following are the most used in 2018: open-pit mining (also known as open-cast mining), quarrying, strip mining, mountaintop removal and dredging.

Underground mining

Underground mining is also called subsurface mining. This type of mining happens when miners need to dig tunnels into the earth to extract the ore. In this type no processes take place in the earth surface.

As the previous type, you can find different methods used in 2018 of underground mining: room and pillar mining, cut and fill mining, sub-level open stopping, shrinkage stopping, long-wall mining, block caving and sub-level caving.

Mining air pollution

In the mining process a lot of activities are involved: drilling, blasting, hauling, collection, and transportation. Some mining methods may have significant environmental impact and public health effects during these activities, as miners have a huge and constant exposure to several air pollutants.

Air pollution from coal mines is particularly harmful due to emissions of particulate matter and gases, including methane (CH4), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and carbon monoxide (CO).

Nonetheless, miners are not the only ones affected, nearby population and wildlife can also suffer diseases from this risky activity. The two most dangerous particles to exhale during this activity are coal dust and silica dust.

In particularly, silica, or often referred to as quartz, is a very common material to be found in many construction materials. The dust created by cutting, grinding, drilling or disturbing these materials can contain crystalline silica particles. These tiny invisible materials can penetrate deeply into lungs and have the ability to cut.

Mining risks and health problems

Miners contend with many daily health dangers from working around dust, heavy metals, hazardous gases, fumes and loud noises. Air quality in the chambers is very dangerous, and nowadays is mandatory to wear a dust mask even if you are around the mining area.

For many years until 2001, mining was considered the most dangerous industry for workers. During the recent years many policies have installed a culture of prevention in the mining sector, and number of deads have significantly dropped.

Still, miners’ chances of dying from explosions, cave-ins and equipment accidents are ever-present, and many chronic and fatal conditions are linked to their toxic work conditions. Even many years after they quit, lungs’ diseases appear due to the highly exposure for a lifetime career.

According to various governmental agencies the more dangerous health risks miners are exposed are the following:

  • Dust
  • Radon
  • Welding fumes
  • Mercury
  • Noise
  • Back injuries due to heavy loads
  • Whole body vibration (WBV)
  • UV exposure
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Thermal stress
  • Chemical hazard

Two harmful diseases predominate due to the constant and highly exposure to dust:

Pneumoconiosis or black lung disease

This is due to long term inhalation of large concentrations of coal dust or silica dust. The settling and accumulation of these fine dust particles causes the scarring of the tissue between the air sacs, which eventually result in the inflammation and hardening of the lungs.


It is a consequence of the inhalation of large concentrations of silica dust, which results in the inflammation and buildup of fluid in the lungs, and shortness of breath. In the long run, chronic silicosis may also result in the development of lymph nodes in the chest and even death.

Gold, silver and coal mining jobs

Truth is that all these risks are accompanied with salary rewards, and miners have pretty good salaries.

If you read this post and you are still willing to take a job on the mining sector, check indeed to look out for jobs and companies within your area.

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