At least 23 million people around the world live on flood-plains contaminated by potentially harmful concentrations of toxic waste from metal-mining activity, according to a study. UK scientists mapped the world’s 22,609 active and 159,735 abandoned metal mines and calculated the extent of pollution from them.
Chemicals can leach from mining operations into soil and waterways. The researchers say future mines have to be planned “very carefully”. This is particularly critical as the demand surges for metals that will support battery technology and electrification, including lithium and copper, says Prof Mark Macklin from the University of Lincoln, who led the research.
“We’ve known about this for a long time,” he told BBC News. “What’s alarming for me is the legacy – [pollution from abandoned mines] is still affecting millions of people.” The findings, published in the journal Science, build on the team’s previous studies of exactly how pollution from mining activity moves and accumulates in the environment.
The scientists compiled data on mining activity around the world, which was published by governments, mining companies and organisations like the US Geological Survey. This included the location of each mine, what metal it was extracting and whether it was active or abandoned.
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