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12.20: Environmental Impacts of Mining

Difficulty Level: Basic Created by: CK-12
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Can you tell that this was a mine?

Mining can do a lot of damage to a region. Mining companies are now supposed to return the land to its natural state when they are done. Sometimes this works really well. It's hard to tell there was a mine here!

Mining and the Environment

Mining provides people with many resources they need. But mining can be hazardous to the environment. For surface mines, miners clear the land of soil and plants. Nearby lakes and streams may be inundated with sediment. The mined rock may include heavy metals. These also enter the sediment and water. Removing metals from rock may involve toxic chemicals. Acid flow from a mine site will change the chemistry of a nearby stream or lake.

Land Reclamation

U.S. law states that once mining is complete the land must be restored to its natural state. This process is called reclamation. A pit may be refilled with dirt. It may be filled with water to create a lake. The pits may be turned into landfills. Underground mines may be sealed off or left open as homes for bats. The land is reshaped. Native plants are planted.

Mine Pollution

Mining can cause pollution. Chemicals released from mining can contaminate nearby water sources. Figure below shows water that is contaminated from a nearby mine. The United States government has mining standards to protect water quality.

This water has been polluted by a copper mine.


  • reclamation: Restoring an altered property to its previous state.


  • Surface mining clears the land. Rock, dirt and plants are all disturbed.
  • Mining releases pollutants from rock or as metals are removed from rock.
  • Reclamation occurs when people attempt to return the mined land to its original state.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

Earth: Scientists Seek Ban on Mountaintop Mining at http://news.discovery.com/videos/earth-scientists-seek-ban-on-mountaintop-mining.html (3:49)

  1. What is mountaintop mining?
  2. What are the advantages to mountaintop mining?
  3. What damage does this type of mining do to the environment?
  4. What are companies required to do about the damage?
  5. What is the government's current position on mountaintop mining?


  1. What damage may be caused by mining?
  2. Why is sediment considered a problem in mined areas?
  3. How is the region where there is a surface mine reclaimed?

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reclamation Restoring an altered property to its previous state.

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Difficulty Level:
6 , 7
Date Created:
Jan 04, 2013
Last Modified:
Sep 05, 2016
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