What is the problem?

Open pit mining is a surface mining technique of extracting rock and minerals layer by layer from an open pit. This mining technique is primarily used when useful materials are close to the surface or when underlying material is structurally too unstable for burrowing.

Reasons for concern

  • particulate matter containing metallic dust, asbestos-like minerals, and radioactive elements is released into the air; linked to upper respiratory diseases and cancers
  • exposed rock formations can contain sulfides, which create sulfuric acid when mixed with rain water and oxygen (see below)
  • improper erosion control can lead to substantial sediment deposits in rivers and streams—smothering vegetation, wildlife habitat, and aquatic organisms
  • near impossible to completely rehabilitate surrounding habitat after the mine’s closure

Sulfide Mining extracts copper, nickel, and other metals from sulfide rock.

Reasons for concern

  • sulfuric acid forms when sulfide-rich rock comes into contact with oxygen and water; long-term acid drainage severely degrades water quality and even makes rivers and streams inhospitable to the majority of aquatic life
  • possible mercury and other heavy metal contamination in fish and wildlife
  • impossible to monetize the potential environmental damage and clean-up costs
  • states frequently discover that financial assurances by the company are insufficient for clean-up jobs
  • the expensive burden of clean-up operations often fall to taxpayers

Gravel Mining occurs in areas where ancient streams and rivers have carried eroded rocks from higher elevations downstream, breaking them apart into sand and gravel in the process. As the river channels shift and move across the landscape over time, they leave behind sand and gravel deposits. Sometimes these deposits are buried hundreds of feet beneath the surface.

Sand and gravel have a variety of uses: road building, concrete production, landscaping, glass manufacturing, snow and ice control, petroleum extraction, etc.

Reasons for concern

  • these mines are exposed to the air, and have the same environmental and health concerns as traditional open pit mines
  • destruction of habitat, reduction of farm and grazing land, collapsing of river banks, deforestation, water pollution
  • release of high concentrations of heavy metals and other particulate matter that has negative effects on surrounding plants and animals, linked to brain and kidney damage, lung irritation, cardiac abnormalities, and even death

What is Freshwater Future doing?

Serving as watchdog

Mining is a necessary activity for modern life, but left unchecked it can be economically exploitative to local communities, detrimental to public health, and disastrous for the surrounding ecology.

Funding grassroots activists

Subject to frequent “boom-and-bust” cycles, mining projects fail to provide long-term economic stability to local communities. Once operations cease to be profitable, companies will often abandon

One peer-reviewed study found that 76% of mining projects that claimed they would not pollute still did so.

Creating and supporting broad-based coalitions



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.