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Environmental Science
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Why are minerals useful? discuss one way that minerals are extracted through mining and the effects of this mining process on the environment.

Mar 17th, 2015

HOW MINERALS ARE USEFUL ? Rock and mineral resources have a wide variety of uses and play a huge role in our lives The Mineral Information Institute has a poster showing how much of a variety of minerals each person uses in his or her lifetime. 

Minerals are important to our health. We need small amounts of a wide variety of minerals. Minerals found in Tennessee which people need include: calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, copper, fluoride, iron, and zinc. 

Coal, oil and natural gas provide us with almost all of the energy we use to light, heat and run our world. 

Minerals are ingredients in almost all of the products we use from fertilizer to plastics, from toothpaste to kitty litter, from knives to plates. 

Minerals are common ingredients in pigments. In fact, some of the earliest uses of minerals were as pigments. 

Minerals also play an important role in the processing of materials. 

Bentonite is important in well drilling, 

Barite is important in oil drilling. 

Fluorite is important in making steel 

Barite Used in oil drilling to weigh down the oil and prevent gushers (high specific gravity), filler in paint, glass, toothpaste. 

Chert Used to make stone tools. (hardness, fracture patterns). Used as fill to provide a stable base for roads (insolubility) 

Clay Used to make pottery and bricks. Used for pet litter (ability to absorb water) 

Chalcopyrite (copper) is used to make electrical wiring (electrical conductivity). Used in alloys - bronze and brass (low melting point, beauty, resistance to oxidation) Used as an ingredient in pigments (blue and green) 

Coal Used as a fuel (flammable). The oils and tars produced processing coal are processed into a variety of organic solvents and compounds such as plastics, motor fuel, photo developer, perfume, medicine, and sugar substitute. 

Fluorite Used as a flux - i.e. used as an intermediate chemical to separate metals from waste material. Another important product made from fluorite is hydrofluoric acid, which is used in the pottery, optics, and plastics industry. Fluorite is also used in making opalescent glass and in enameling cookware. 

Galena (lead) The largest use of lead is in automotive batteries. It is also used as weights (high specific gravity). Used as an ingredient in solder (soft, low melting point.). Until recently it was also used as an ingredient in paint and as an additive in gasoline to make engines run more smoothly. 

Gypsum is primarily used to make wallboard. It is also an ingredient in cement. 

Ilmenite (titanium) is used in alloys to make strong light-weight materials - space ships, bicycles Used to make white paint - non-toxic replacement for lead, which used to be used for this purpose. (low reactivity) 

Iron is used for tools, for appliances, for building supports. It is also used as a pigment (red and ochre) 

Limestone is used as building stone, for ornamental stone for surfaces and sculpture, to make cement and mortar, as crushed stone for fill 

Mussel shells were used as ceremonial objects. European Americans have used shells as ornaments - buttons and pearls for jewelry. 

Oil and natural gas are used as fuels and ingredients in the chemical industry to produce petroleum based products notably plastics. 

Phosphate is used as a fertilizer and to make phosphoric acid which is a major ingredient in food products such as cola drinks. 

Saltpeter was used as a fertilizer (source of nitrogen) and as an ingredient in gunpowder. It has now been replaced by the related compound ammonium nitrate which can be manufactured in the laboratory. 

Sand and gravel are used as fill to provide a stable foundation for buildings and roads. 

Sandstone is used as a building material. 

Sphalerite (zinc) is used as an ingredient in brass (with copper). It is used to coat (galvanize) iron implements to protect them from rusting. It is used as a pigment (white)


The term "mineral extraction" is most closely associated with the mining process, wherein base metals, precious metals, and other geological materials that cannot be grown through agricultural processes or created in labs, are removed from the earth. 

Although mining has been conducted for centuries, modern mining involves the prospecting of land for ore-based bodies (and other "non-renewable" materials), analyzing the profit potential of a mine site, extraction of materials from underground, and the eventual reclamation of the land for other uses and purposes once a mine has closed. Only in recent years have worldwide regulations been adopted that set best practices around the clean-up of abandoned mines. Prior to such regulations, centuries of mining led to what is now a global catastrophe of arsenic pollution and chronic health conditions in regions where materials have been excavated and the land poorly reclamated, if at all.

Safety is a growing concern, leading the mining industry, as well as regional and federal jurisdictions, to enforce the safe recovery of minerals, thereby mitigating negative impact on the surrounding environments. Patented technologies are in place to insure recent regulations are met and to allow mining and remediation entities to profit from the extracted materials.

An example of industry-leading remediation technology is bioleaching. Through the use of naturally-occurring bacteria, the bioleach process extracts metals from ores with little or no use of chemicals (cyanide is still used in a closed-loop system for gold recovery only; not in other precious or base metals). As a result, bioleaching is a safer method of neutralizing arsenic, as well as other toxins, from left-over mine site debris or "tailings." When applied, the process is an effective and environmentally-friendly way of recovering metal from tailings and mitigating the leaching of toxins into ground-water supply and adjacent land.

To illustrate the severity and impact of mining on land that is not properly reclamated, there are hundreds of thousands of sites around the world that display unnaturally high levels of toxins, such as arsenic, sulfuric acid, and mercury. Massive contamination from chemicals and compounds used in and extracted via the mining process, as well as water produced from mine drainage, affects every aspect of a surrounding ecosystem, from rivers and creeks to forests and farm lands. Residents of such areas demonstrate higher risk of health conditions associated with chronic arsenic exposure, as well as more diagnosed diseases related to ingestion of chemicals through crop and water supply.

The only viable way to stave off the additional harmful effects of mineral extraction from mining, is to require that all regulations involve processes like bioleaching and result in EPA-approved, benign substances posing no risk to the environment. The only solution is a permanent solution that enables safer, greener mining.


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