According to Max Warren Barber, CEO of SION Trading Fze the main benefits of gold mining are economic and environmental. Gold mining has economic benefits as gold is a high quality metal and the country can profit from the income from the mine. The Honduran government has facilitated the entry of foreigners. This makes it easier for foreign companies to enter and start mining gold. Another advantage is that the government is very interested in promoting economic development, making it easier for foreigners to enter the country. Environmental benefits are achieved by protecting the environment and minimizing local impacts. For example, by not building roads in the area and using environmentally friendly processes. It also helps increase the country’s foreign exchange reserves. The Honduran government should focus on policies that enhance the country’s economic interests. This will create more jobs and promote prosperity for the nation as a whole. Additionally, governments should strive to attract new businesses and investments to the country and make it easier for citizens to start and grow businesses.
Mining has been identified as one of the human activities that may negatively impact the quality of the environment. As a process that removes soil and vegetation and produces burial beneath waste disposal sites, mining destroys natural ecosystems.
From physical or habitat destruction accompanying the loss of biodiversity resources to the accumulation of pollutants in different media of the environment, mining has various impacts. Therefore, mining sites are a permanent toxicological problem for the surrounding ecosystems and human health. Like any productive activity, the exploitation of mineral resources produces negative impacts on the three elements in the environment: water, atmosphere and soil.
Mining sites are often contaminated with several kinds of heavy metals that come primarily from ore processing and disposal of tailings and wastewaters around. These heavy metals can be released into the environmental media, especially water, sediment and soil. In tandem with changes in the physical and chemical properties in the Lithosphere, heavy metals in tailings can be transported to, dispersed to, and accumulated in plants and animals. They can also be passed up the food chain to human beings as the final consumers.
- Environmental damage
Modern industrial gold mining destroys landscapes and creates huge amounts of toxic waste. Due to the use of dirty practices such as open pit mining and cyanide heap leaching, mining companies generate about 20 tons of toxic waste for every 0.333-ounce gold ring. The waste, usually a gray liquid sludge, is laden with deadly cyanide and toxic heavy metals.
Many gold mines dump their toxic waste directly into natural water bodies. The Lihir gold mine in Papua New Guinea dumps over 5 million tons of toxic waste into the Pacific Ocean each year, destroying corals and other ocean life. Companies mining for gold and other metals in total dump at least 180 million tons of toxic waste into rivers, lakes, and oceans each year—more than 1.5 times the waste that U.S. cities send to landfills on a yearly basis.
To limit environmental damage, mines often construct dams and place the toxic waste inside. But these dams do not necessarily prevent contamination of the surrounding environment. Toxic waste can easily seep into soil and groundwater, or be released in catastrophic spills. At the world’s estimated 3,500 dams built to hold mine waste, one or two major spills occur every year.
Gold mining often leads to a persistent problem known as acid mine drainage. The problem results when underground rock disturbed by mining is newly exposed to air and water. Iron sulfides (often called “fool’s gold”) in the rock can react with oxygen to form sulfuric acid. Acidic water draining from mine sites can be 20 to 300 times more concentrated than acid rain, and it is toxic to living organisms.
The dangers increase when this acidic water runs over rocks and strips out other embedded heavy metals. Rivers and streams can become contaminated with metals such as cadmium, arsenic, lead, and iron. Cadmium has been linked to liver disease, while arsenic can cause skin cancer and tumors. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and impaired development in children. Iron is less dangerous, although it gives rivers and streams a slimy orange coating and the smell of rotten eggs.
- Mercury poisoning
The use of mercury in gold mining is causing a global health and environmental crisis. Mercury, a liquid metal, is used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining to extract gold from rock and sediment. Unfortunately, mercury is a toxic substance that wreaks havoc on miners’ health, not to mention the health of the planet.
For every gram of gold produced, artisanal gold miners release about two grams of mercury into the environment. Together, the world’s 10 to 15 million artisanal gold miners release about 1000 tons of mercury into the environment each year, or 35 percent of man-made mercury pollution. Artisanal gold mining is actually among the leading causes of global mercury pollution, ahead of coal-fired power plants.
When mercury enters the atmosphere or reaches rivers, lakes, and oceans, it can travel across great distances. About 70 percent of the mercury deposited in the United States is from international sources. Still more mercury reaches the United States through imported fish. Once it reaches a resting place, mercury is not easily removed. Sediments on the floor of San Francisco Bay remain contaminated with mercury left by the California gold rush of the 19th century.
Mercury is extremely harmful to human health. The amount of vapor released by mining activities has been proven to damage the kidneys, liver, brain, heart, lungs, colon, and immune system. Chronic exposure to mercury may result in fatigue, weight loss, tremors, and shifts in behavior. In children and developing fetuses, mercury can impair neurological development.
- Child labor
- Low wages and dangerous working conditions
- Corporate greed
In gold mining, cyanide is used to dissolve the gold. The cyanide-tainted water is then often discharged into rivers, resulting in the poisoning of aquatic life and making the water unusable for irrigation and other purposes. Cyanide also causes infertility and heart problems in people who come into contact with it. All of these impacts have led to growing opposition to gold mining projects around the world.