Air, another essential element for life, knows no boundaries. It can carry and spread pollution for many miles, depositing chemicals, dust and particles on plants, crops, soils and water and in the lungs of people, livestock and wildlife. Air pollution is invisible but extremely costly to clean up.
Air pollution has significant impacts on food production and quality, yet neither local nor national governments take these impacts into account.
Mining creates several different types of air pollution, all of which can travel large distances to settle on soils, biodiversity, waterways and crops. Dust, particles, fumes and toxic emissions can impact on agriculture in a number of ways: They can impact the health of farmers and thereby reduce their ability to farm; dust and particles can suppress pollination and therefore lower crop and wild food yields; and toxic emissions from machinery and fossil fuel extractives can affect the health and yields of livestock and crop production.
Metals, Minerals and Dust
During mining, rocks, ore and coal are blasted, drilled, crushed, ground and cleaned. Materials are transported in open trucks. Tailings dams and waste rock heaps release large amounts of dust, containing heavy metals and other contaminants. Extremely small particles and liquid droplets are especially dangerous to health if they are less than 10 micrometres in diameter, as they can pass through the nose and throat, and enter into the lungs of humans and animals.
Emissions from Diesel Machinery and Smelting
Large-scale mining operations involve constant use of diesel engines for drilling, hauling, heating, cooling and transporting. The giant drills, mass excavators, electric shovels, bulldozers, scrapers, diggers, earthmovers and trucks used in surface mining can be enormous. Some have buckets that are capable of moving 160 cubic yards of earth in one scoop.
The constant use of multiple giant diesel engines on a mining site generates large amounts of diesel emissions, including Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2). Smelting operations release particles of zinc, arsenic and lead that settle on soils, water and biodiversity, far beyond the site of operation.