Study Reveals Global Impact of Metal Mining Contamination on Floodplains

A study recently published in the journal Science estimates that approximately 23 million people worldwide live on floodplains contaminated by toxic waste from metal mining activity. The research utilized a global database of 185,000 metal mines and assessed the contamination’s impact on rivers, floodplains, and human populations.

Scope of Contamination

  • The study considered contamination from active and inactive metal mining sites, including tailings storage facilities.
  • It examined harmful contaminants such as lead, zinc, copper, and arsenic, which can be transported downstream from mining operations and deposited along river channels and floodplains.
  • The contamination affects around 479,200 kilometers of river channels and covers 164,000 square kilometers of floodplains globally.

Human Impact

  • Approximately 23.48 million people reside on these affected floodplains.
  • These areas support 5.72 million livestock and encompass over 65,000 square kilometers of irrigated land.
  • The pathways for human exposure to these contaminants include direct contact, ingestion, inhalation, and consumption of contaminated water and food.
  • The health hazards are particularly concerning in low-income countries and regions with existing water-related diseases.

Global Demand and Sustainability

  • The study comes amid increasing demand for metals and minerals due to the green energy transition.
  • While much of the contamination is a legacy from the industrial era, there is a growing emphasis on environmental sustainability in modern mining.



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