Water is one of earth’s valuable resources and is essential to all life on the planet. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the pollution of our oceans, lakes, and rivers are kept to a minimum, if not eliminated entirely, to ensure the health and safety of all that rely on water.
Over the last few decades, there has been mounting concern over the worsening condition of the earth’s waters spurring governments and industries to take action and resulting in the development of sustainable practices. Still, according to the United Nations, over 80 percent of the world’s wastewater is released to the environment without treatment. In some least developed countries, the number goes up to 95 percent.
Mining and Water Pollution
Mining is one of the industries that adversely affects the quality of water. By its very nature, the mining industry uses up water, diverts water sources for their purposes, and in the process has the potential to pollute this very important natural resource.
There are various ways in which water pollution occurs in mining:
- Sedimentation – a process by which layers of sediment are added to bodies of water from the erosion of waste piles or runoff from impoundment areas.
- Acid Drainage – sulphuric acid is produced when minerals that contain sulphide are exposed to air or water. The process of acid leaching will last for as long as its source rock is exposed to reactants – and this process could last for centuries depending on the size and amount of exposed rock. Acid drainage is harmful for marine environments, particularly for aquatic life that cannot live below pH 5 or pH 6.
- Heavy Metals Deposition – excavated rock or exposed underground mines can contain such minerals as aluminium, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, silver, and zinc. When these come into contact with water, the metals leach out and are carried to waterways affecting their pH conditions.
Other Sources of Water Pollution
Meanwhile, there are unknown contributors to water pollution in the mining sector: chemical cleaning agents used for washing down heavy vehicles and equipment. Whilst most people don’t give much thought to it, heavy machinery used in the industry require regular cleaning and maintenance to operate efficiently. Degreasers are particularly useful for removing oil, grease, and other hydrocarbon soils from oft-used mining equipment.
There’s no question that these cleaning agents do the job but many of these products, even those that claim to be Worksafe and environmentally-friendly, contain harmful chemicals. One such toxin commonly found in degreasers is butyl cellosolve.
Butyl cellosolve is also known as Butoxyethanol, Butyl Glycol, and Ethylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether. It is a chemical that is proven to be harmful to humans and the environment. It can be absorbed through skin contact or inhalation and cause a variety of health problems, the severity of which can depend on the level of exposure. Aside from being a skin and eye irritant, inhalation of butyl cellosolve can cause headache, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. Additionally, it is classified as toxic to aquatic environments. The long-term cumulative effects of exposure to this chemical are not fully-known.
Harmful chemicals like butyl cellosolve end up in surface and/or ground water after cleaning agents have been rinsed from the mining equipment, and can eventually wind up in streams, lakes, and oceans. Wastewater treatment at mining sites, whilst heavily monitored and managed nowadays, may not completely remove all water-borne contaminants.
Choosing Better and Safer Cleaning Agents
You can play a role in solving the problem of wastewater pollution in mining. By taking the time to carefully check the ingredients of the cleaning agents you are using and substituting dangerous products with safer alternatives, you can help eradicate harmful chemicals like butyl cellosolve from your wastewater.